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: Packers put away the Vikings with ease

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: November 24, 2014 - 8:44 AM

The Minnesota Vikings stayed with the Green Bay Packers at TCF Bank Stadium, but ultimately the visitors, with their high-powered offense, proved too much. The Packers defense turned a Teddy Bridgewater interception into seven points to give them the lead and they never really looked back.

While few experts gave the Vikings much of a chance against the high-scoring Packers, the Vikings defense played tough enough to keep them around late into the fourth quarter. Head coach Mike Zimmer twice went for it on fourth down to keep a Vikings drive going and to keep Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field, but in the end, the Packers, with the help of Eddie Lacy (125 rushing yards and a touchdown), put up the points they needed to win.

The Vikings played better than they had last week against Chicago, but in the end were just outgunned. Rodgers never appeared too concerned about the outcome. In the final analysis, the Vikings played with the Packers, but the Packers basically toyed with the Vikings.

Trending

Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had another rough outing. He missed several open receivers, threw several high passes (some that were completed) to his receivers and floated a bad pick in the first half that turned into a Packers touchdown. Bridgewater looked good in the fourth quarter when the Vikings went into 4-minute drill (and the Packers went into prevent defense) and he had his first two-touchdown pass game as a pro, but his mistakes had already put the Vikings in a hole that they had little chance of escaping. But it was his inaccuracies and the unforced error of the pick that ultimately marred his performance.

As a unit, the Vikings pass defense had a decent game for Minnesota, holding Rodgers and the high-octane Packers passing game to only 207 yards—below their average of 275 yards per game. Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, and particularly Josh Robinson (who struggled mightily last weekend with the taller Bears receivers), were constantly in position to break up passes and did so. With a quarterback such as Rodgers, who is going to get his, they kept him in check, which kept Minnesota in the game. If the Viking rush defense had had similar success, it might have been enough to win.

With all kinds of questions at the Vikings running back position (from Adrian Peterson to Matt Asiata out with a concussion and Jerick McKinnon with a sore lower back), the Vikings needed some good news and got it from Joe Banyard. Banyard, getting his first NFL carry and first reception, spelled McKinnon and took advantage of every opportunity (five rushes for 26 yards and three catches for 19 yards). It could have because he heard footsteps behind him when the Vikings signed Ben Tate earlier in the week. But Banyard’s production is what kept him on the field.

“I thought Joe did well when he was in there,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “He made some extra yards after contact a bunch of times. He looked like he had some juice running and carried his pads low. He deserved to keep playing.”

Zimmer (like most coaches) likes to reward good play, so expect to see more of Banyard the longer Asiata remains sidelined or until Tate gets up to speed with the offense.

Worth Defending

Zimmer may have made a coaching error, at least according to himself. After the Vikings’ final touchdown and two-point conversion, the Vikings were gifted with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty that was tacked onto the kickoff. It presented a great opportunity to try an onside kick that Zimmer decided against. Zimmer chose to kick deep, which let to Lacy grinding away the rest of the clock. After the game, Zimmer said in retrospect, that he should have kicked it onside.

“I did,” Zimmer said when asked if he considered an onside kick. “I did and [in] hindsight I probably should have, but you’re trying to pop it up and keep it in play and try to pin them back down in there deep. But I assumed that we would stop them.”

Hindsight is 20-20, as they say, but Zimmer should have made the call at the outset. The only way to shutdown the Packers totally is to keep them off the field. Zimmer made that decision to do the same on fourth down twice in the first half. At 4-6 heading toward 4-7, the Vikings had nothing to lose going for the onside kick. If they don’t get it, Lacy can get a first down and ice the game at the 45 as well as the 20-yard line.

The Vikings offensive line had a better game this week, but not good enough to get the job done. Bridgewater was sacked twice and hurried six times in the game, and he had to sprint out of a collapsing pocket often to gain yardage (he had five rushes for 32 yards). Where the line really dropped the ball was not playing clean of penalties. The penalties shortened drives and affected offensive momentum. There was some improvement in general, but not enough to beat the Packers.

Before the game on Sunday a report from ESPN said that Mike Zimmer believes that Adrian Peterson will return to the Vikings after he is reinstated—despite reaction to a report by the USA Today in which Peterson said it might be best to try a fresh start somewhere else.

ESPN sources said that while there are some team personnel who are interested in Peterson returning, Vikings ownership--along with general manager Rick Spielman--“have been heavily involved in effort to have him play this season, an indication they may take him back when reinstated.”

Peterson will be back with the NFL sooner or later. Getting a second chance in Minnesota would be good for him and the team—even if not all the Vikings corporate sponsors agree. In my estimation, he would need to come back with a renegotiated salary (as he is due between $13-15 million next season), but his presence in the backfield would open things up for Bridgewater and help him to learn his position rather than fearing it on every pass play behind a struggling offensive line. Peterson should be able to continue to make a living, and I would like to see him do it as a Viking.

Should be Ending

Matt Kalil struggled once again on Sunday, and it was no more obvious than on the three penalties that he took that served to shorten two Vikings drives. His head coach didn’t call him out by name, but he did mention the infractions in his postgame news conference:

“We had a 15-yard run and get an offensive holding penalty late on that one,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. We get a hands to the face. We just have to quit doing these things. It’s not what good teams do. We’ll keep going, keep getting back to work and keep trying to pound the mindset and pound the fundamentals of we have to continue to do to win football games.”

The Vikings need to find the secret to Kalil to unlock the player who was on the field two years ago. The future success of the team depends on it.

On the Vikings final drive, Jarius Wright was confused with his assignment on the field twice and the second time it forced the use of a time out. One play Bridgewater had to direct him into position, and on the second he called a time out. When play resumed after the time out, Wright was nowhere to be seen on the field for the remainder of the drive. Patterson, who was questionable to return to the game with injury, came in for Wright. Not being ready in crunch time is not acceptable. It appears it is not acceptable to Zimmer either.

Bridgewater needs to figure out why he is throwing his passes so high to receivers. It has happened throughout the season and showed up with great frequency against Green Bay (he came into the game tied for sixth most overthrows in the league with five per game). If it is mechanics, work on it. If he is too short to see over his line, then try rolling him out more. If he doesn’t grip the ball correctly, he might need to change things up. His overthrows hurt the Vikings on several drives and more accurate passing could have made difference in the game.

Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's take on who to blame for the disheartening loss to the Packers 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: Preparing For Life Without Adrian Peterson

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: November 22, 2014 - 8:01 AM

Since he entered the league in 2007, the Minnesota Vikings have formed their offensive game plan around the talents of running back Adrian Peterson. Some years, depending on the rest of the personnel, Adrian is a focal point but the offense can find other ways to be effective. Other years, Peterson has been the entirety of the Vikings offense.

But as we sit here, Saturday morning, There’s a very real possibility that the Vikings, Vikings fans and Vikings players will have to start getting used to the idea of playing without Adrian Peterson.

We all know that he’ll most likely be suspended for the remainder of the season awaiting his appeal to be heard. Now, after Peterson broke his silence with a phone interview with the USA Today.

While Peterson used the forum to address his issues with corporal punishment and admitting that there are better ways to punish his kids, he also used it to float out an interesting idea.

Buried within the context of Adrian exclaiming how sorry he is and how many different forms of punishment he will now use instead of a switch were a few little nuggets that shouldn’t leave Vikings fans feeling super comfortable about his future with the team.

Primarily this quote,

"I would love to go back and play in Minnesota to get a feel and just see if my family still feels comfortable there," Peterson said. "But if there's word out that hey, they might release me, then so be it. I would feel good knowing that I've given everything I had in me."

In my opinion, this is Adrian Peterson testing the waters to see what sort of reaction the thought of him being released will get.  In reality, it might be a win-win for both sides of this situation. Adrian gets a new start, with a new fan base that may have been a little more understanding of this whole situation and the Vikings get out from underneath a contract that would have hamstrung them for $13-$15 million a year over the next few seasons.

But what would a Vikings team without Adrian Peterson look like heading into the future? It will be different that’s for sure, but is different necessarily a bad thing?

We’ve been hearing for year that the NFL has transformed into a passing league and the Minnesota Vikings are stuck with an archaic offensive attack focusing on running the football first. Sure it’s gotten them to the playoffs a few times, but the one season they went deep, Brett Favre came to town and single handedly transformed the bland attack into a viable aerial threat.

The Vikings haven’t exactly been planning for a time this close where they would have to part ways with their star running back, but thankfully, they may have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough with third round running back Jerick McKinnon.

Drafted to add a new element to the Vikings offense, pass catching, and to serve as a change of pace for Adrian’s hard-nosed running style, McKinnon has impressed during his fill-in opportunity this season. His patience is that of a crafty veteran and his shiftiness is something that you simply cannot teach a football player. They either have it, or they don’t.

With McKinnon filling in, and Norv Turner still at the offensive helm, the Vikings offense then shifts to more of a passing, maybe call it West Coast offense attack. Short passes, allowing your players to make a defender miss a tackle and gain yards after the catch. McKinnon fits that bill well, so do Kyle Rudolph and Cordarrelle Patterson. There’s your young core of weapons. Still, the success of this football team will live and die with the progression of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

There is a mindset that Adrian Peterson’s presence on the field would have helped Teddy’s progress in his first season as a starter. While that very well may be true, it could have also served as a detriment for this team.

Sure, having Adrian out there would have taken the focus off of the young QB and it would have opened up the field, but then what would have happened to Teddy’s progress if and when Adrian were to be cut? He no longer has his noookie-blankey to rely on and all the attention shifts back to him, the quarterback who was christened into the league within a run-first offensive attack.

Throwing Teddy into the fire feet first this season without Adrian should help him prepare better for the type of offense that the Vikings will run with or without Adrian Peterson into the future. It’s teaching him how to read pressures, how to adjust formations and how to find the open receiver better than handing the ball off to 28 would have done.

The writing appears to be on the wall spelling the end of Adrian’s time here in Minnesota. If it’s not this offseason, it will likely be next, but there is a time coming in the not-so-distant future where this football team will play without Peterson in the backfield. As painful as this season has been, with all of the changes and adjustments, it’s setting them up to bounce back from this loss faster.

How about we call it a blessing in disguise and start looking towards 2015 already?

VikesCentric: Vikings are young and a bit restless

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: November 21, 2014 - 7:12 AM

The Minnesota Vikings are fifth youngest team in the NFL, with an average age of 25.58 years. They showed every bit of their age last Sunday against the Chicago Bears in losing a winnable game on the road. The good news is the team will age and mature and become experienced. Patience is simply required.

The Vikings are in rebuilding mode, and with the news that came out earlier in the week regarding Adrian Peterson being suspended for the rest of the season, that mode of operations will certainly continue. If you look at the team’s starting roster, it gets even younger: they have a rookie quarterback, a rookie starting running back, a second year star receiver and two of the leaders on defense in their first and third seasons.

You can even say the Vikings have a rookie head coach, although he has been around the league for quite awhile. But “young” head coach Mike Zimmer recognizes how youthful his team is. Listening to Zimmer talk about his team after the Bears game, you hear him say the loss had more to do with lack of experience than anything:

“We started out the game, sometimes when we’re not having the success that we expect to have, I think guys try to do a little bit too much sometimes and I think that’s what happened yesterday,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune.

An experienced team might not have panicked quite so quickly (especially since they had jumped out to a 10-0 lead) and start trying to fix the whole game on their own. An experienced player sticks to his assignments, trusts his teammates and continues to follow the game plan.

Certainly Zimmer believes wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who came into the league after just one NCAA Division I season at Tennessee, is young. Zimmer said the following when asked if he was disappointed in Patterson’s development:

“I think Cordarrelle is a young, developing player that has been in his third offense in three years, hasn’t been a receiver for a long time, so we’re going to continue to be patient with him and keep teaching him and keep working with him and try to get him to where he needs to be in all of those areas. He does some very, very good things and then some things you don’t like as much. I don’t think disappointed is the right word; I think youth might be the right word.

“Sometimes it takes time with young guys. I believe that’s the case with [Patterson], I believe that he’s going to be a really good player, but everybody is impatient, including me. I’m sure he is, too. It will come, it will come.”

Running back Jerick McKinnon shows his inexperience, as well, particularly in the pass protection game. The Vikings have given him plenty of responsibility in Peterson’s absence, but McKinnon probably would have sat longer to work on catching passes and protecting his quarterback had Peterson been available.

Linebacker Anthony Barr, who has started all season, actually looked like a rookie for the first time on Sunday, missing five tackles and whiffing badly on some of them.

“He had a couple of alignment errors [Sunday] but the missed tackles were more about over-running it or being in the wrong position. It wasn’t alignments,” Zimmer said.

Being out of position is certainly an error that can be attributed to youth (or age if you are no longer quick enough to get in position), and Barr, who has only played linebacker for two years, doesn’t make that mistake too often. He was exposed on Sunday, but exposed more so as a rookie than anything else.

Regarding quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, starting in his fifth game and second game on the road, Zimmer acknowledged that Bridgewater struggled, but still has faith in him going forward.

“Mentally, he’s actually pretty good,” Zimmer said of Bridgewater. “He’s helping the receivers out, where they’re supposed to be and where they’re supposed to go. The things I thought he did good yesterday, I thought especially in the 2nd half, he moved in the pocket to allow things to develop down the field a little bit more, I thought that helped.

“Early in the game, we were talking to him about getting the ball out fairly quick and early in the game, there was a lot of times protection was good and he probably could have waited a little bit longer until something else developed before getting rid of the ball. It’s kind of the feel as you go kind of thing.”

That kind of feel comes with experience, and Bridgewater is certainly getting experience. The problem that arises with a quarterback is getting the right kind of experience. If he is constantly harassed in the pocket and told to get the ball out, it really doesn’t help his development for reading, looking and throwing downfield. The Vikings staff members who can remember, most assuredly don’t want Bridgewater to go through Ponder Syndrome (for lack of a better word) and get gun-shy about all the hits he is taking.

But since Matt Cassel is out with a broken foot and won’t soon replace Bridgewater, the responsibility for this part of his development (having time to read and react) falls on the offensive line, which isn’t exactly the youngest unit on the team (average age is 28.8 years old).

In Sunday’s game it looked as though Bridgewater regressed a bit in his ability to feel the pocket and make downfield throws rather than the constant check downs, but the Vikings can’t put Bridgewater on the bench to protect him now, it would seem like a demotion. He is in until it is determined he can’t do the job, and we have all seen that he has a lot going for him.

Give the kid protection, and he will grow into the position. Open some holes for McKinnon, and he will do the same. Teach Patterson to be a better route runner and how to position his body for receptions (like the Bears receivers demonstrated on Sunday) and he will become the pro everyone anticipates. The Vikings need to find ways to improve their offensive line since the development of their young team depends on it.

On defense, players such as Smith, Barr and Xavier Rhodes are only going to improve the more they are on the field.

The bottom line for this squad is that it is very young and some of the skill position players have displayed a lot of talent and potential. If their playing doesn’t create a setback or injury, it should serve as excellent experience that hastens their development.

At 4-6, the Vikings are headed in the direction of an earlier first-round (rather than later) draft choice, which means to expect more youth added to the starting ranks. That means more patience is required from the players, staff and fans. But if the Vikings do things right, that patience should pay off very soon.

Head over to VikingsJournal.com and check out the latest on Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings new running back Ben Tate 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: Chicago bears down on Minnesota

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: November 17, 2014 - 8:25 AM

The Minnesota Vikings’ postseason hopes were dealt a serious blow on Sunday with a 21-13 loss to the recently woeful Chicago Bears. The Vikings jumped on the Bears early, but quarterback Jay Cutler, who usually does well against Minnesota, rallied his team for three touchdown passes and the win.

Cutler designated the Vikings’ vertically challenged (5-foot-10) cornerback Josh Robinson as the defender to victimize, and he did so every time he needed a reception, a third-down conversion or a touchdown.

But the Vikings offense, playing against one of the worst defenses in the league, could do nothing. Call it post-bye rust, but the Vikings were flat across the board, and it resulted in a devastating loss that likely has them beginning to look toward next season.

Trending

It’s difficult to determine which unit was more culpable for the loss, so we will start with the offense. They say numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but in the case of this game they tell enough. The Vikings had 243 total yards on offense (with 48 of them coming on a fake punt and a bunch more in what turned out to be garbage/prevent time).

Teddy Bridgewater was 18 of 28 for 158 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was inaccurate when throwing past five yards down field. He was sacked twice and hit five times, which shows once again that the offensive line that struggled to protect him. It was well into the game before Bridgewater targeted a wide receiver, as either he didn’t have time to see them or they were not getting open. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

These atrocious numbers came against the 26th ranked defense in the league coming in—a defense that had given up 106 points in their past two games. Were it not for the fake punt that set up the only touchdown, the final score would have been worse. Bridgewater and the offense took a step backwards against a team that had been demoralized. This game for the Vikings was actually worse than the score indicated.

The defense certainly had their work cut out for them, given all the firepower the Bears occasionally display. But with a 10-point lead and Cutler taking a personal foul and moving toward the edge of meltdown, the defense had the Bears right where they wanted them. The imploding Bears were who the Vikings thought they were--but they “let them off the hook.”

Poor tackling, an inability to cover the Bears tall receivers and absolutely no pressure on Cutler allowed the opposition to take the lead and put the Vikings away. The Vikings were the number four pass defense and boasted a defensive front that was tied for third in the league in sacks, and they could not stop the Bears. They gave up 468 yards—330 yards through the air—and had no sacks. The defense did pick off Cutler twice, one time after rattling him and forcing him into a bad throw. But throughout most of the game, Cutler had time to pick Robinson apart, and that was all they needed to do to secure the win.

The special teams did little to help the team this week either. Aside from the fake punt, which was masterful, the special teams struggled as well. Blair Walsh hit a 50-yard field goal but missed a 38-yarder. Jeff Locke had a 54-yard punt but also 33-yard to give the Bears great field position.

So let’s talk about the fake punt then, which was run for the first time since 2004. Andrew Zendejo raced down the sideline with the speed and moves of a running back until his own man, Mike Mauti, tripped him up at the seven. Head coach Mike Zimmer said the team practices it every week, and he found a good time to run it. It was very well executed, and put the Bears back on their heels when Rhett Ellison caught a 7-yard touchdown pass on the next play. Unfortunately, the play may be more remembered for making Zendejo the leading rusher on the Vikings with 48 yards. It was one of those kinds of days.

Worth Defending

I have tried to give Matt Kalil the benefit of the doubt (and there are plenty in the organization who still have his back), but I thought this would be the game that he would bounce back and return to form. He has moments of good play in the run game and when downfield blocking, but in pass protection, he—for some inexplicable reason—is not playing his position well right now.

Bears defensive end Jared Allen was slowing down last year and hadn’t done anything this season until (as we all expected) he was all over the field against the Vikings. Allen only got one sack on Kalil, but he hit Bridgewater three times (tweaking his injured ankle on one play) and made five tackles, one short of the team lead. I thought Kalil would have the motivation and skill to out-duel the aging vet that he faced in practice the past two seasons. But Allen won the day. Kalil and the entire Vikings offensive line clearly lost it.

I would like to defend the play of Josh Robinson, since he was in position most of the afternoon, but his inability to make a play when so many came his way doesn’t allow it. Robinson gives up five inches to Alshon Jeffrey and six inches to Brandon Marshall, and while that was a factor, it can’t be an excuse. They had their way with Robinson on Sunday--at one point Marshall was waving to his quarterback to show him he had single coverage with the guy they had been torching all afternoon. Marshall simply posted up Robinson like a center being covered by a guard in basketball game and scored the winning touchdown.

Where I do defend Robinson is for him standing up in the locker room and making no excuses.

“I think there are some things I probably could have differently,” told WCCO-TV. “We will go back and evaluate and see what I could have done differently and improve in those areas, but in most of the coverages, I was in good position but didn’t make the play. I failed to make the play.”

It doesn’t take much to defend Zimmer’s challenge of the first quarter play in which Brian Robison knocked the ball out of Cutler’s hand, he fumbled, the ball bounced around and then Captain Munnerlyn pounced on it. It initially looked like an incomplete pass on the field, but the call Zimmer challenged was “runner down by contact ruling,” which is only the first thing I don’t get about this play.

I’m not sure anyone can give me a decent explanation of what the referees came up with after reviewing the play. The refs basically upheld the call even after overturning the call and calling it a fumble without a recovery. The CBS referee in residence Mike Carey said it was a fumble but since the players weren’t all scrambling for the ball, it reverted back to the original call. Now if there were a whistle, which no one was clear if there was, that would make some sense. But this is wrong on so many levels.

Just because no one immediately fell on the ball shouldn’t negate that it is a fumble. How can it then revert back to the “runner down by contact” when no runner was down by contact. And if it is runner down by contact, shouldn’t that move the position of the ball to a different spot?

The replay shows that Munnerlyn did scramble for the ball. He was slightly delayed but then jumped on the ball. Just because others didn’t have the presence of mind to do so, shouldn’t negate the fact that Munnerlyn did. There was a play a couple weeks ago (albeit in college) when a player dropped the ball before crossing the goal line and a defender not immediately in the play picked it up and ran the other way for a score. Does someone have a clock on how these balls are laying on the ground?

Finally, how can you possibly penalize the team that challenges the call? The call was overturned to the degree that it wasn’t runner down by contact and in fact was a fumble, yet since no recovered it in a timely fashion, the Vikings lost a challenge and a time out. Zimmer is going to be even more ticked when he watches film of that play.

Should be Ending

Zimmer was asked about the Vikings’ difficulty in playing in Chicago (where they haven’t won since 2007) and whether there is something about the locale that affects their ability to play well. Zimmer paused a long time before answering, seemingly holding back on really telling reporters what he thinks of that theory.

“I don’t know. We didn’t play good today, I know that,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “We did not tackle; we did not block; we did not . . . third down and the critical areas of the ball game, we did not play good. I don’t know if anything had to do with [playing in] Chicago. You go up 10 to nothing and maybe your mindset changes a little bit, as opposed to now we’re going to put our foot on their throat. And we kind of went the opposite way . . . so it’s disappointing.”

Perhaps it’s time to put those theories aside, and just blame poor execution. At least Zimmer seems to think so.

The stadium clock at Soldier Field was malfunctioning all afternoon. And to hear Zimmer talk about it, it is not the first time. Zimmer didn’t make an excuse out of it when his rookie quarterback was trying to make a final game-tying drive without any decent idea about how much time was left, but you get the feeling that he wasn’t too happy about it.

“No, I don’t believe so, there was still a quite a bit of time left and we had moved the ball down,” Zimmer said. “But it’s another new experience when . . . I mean it’s hard to know when . . . because no one is telling you how much time is left and you know . . . the clocks here are [expletive deleted]. I mean the whole day the whole thing was going out, so it’s just another thing.”

With a 4-6 record, six games remaining and the high-flying Green Bay Packers coming to town next week, the Vikings playoff chances are not mathematically gone, but should be ending very soon. Winning out would give them a 10-6 record, which might give them a chance at a Wild Card, but last season the wild card teams were 11-5 and 12-4. The Packers and Lions have a three-game lead and a game in hand for the division. But after what we saw in Chicago on Sunday, it’s time to start looking for improvement rather than holding out hope for the postseason. The Vikings have played better than they did today this season, so let’s hope they do so again soon—or next week could get ugly at The Bank.

Head over to VikingsJournal.com and check out A.J. Mansour's and Arif Hasan's game recaps 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: Viking Look To Exploit Former Teammate In Chicago

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: November 14, 2014 - 11:55 PM

For the first time since joining the Vikings via trade in 2008, defensive end Jared Allen will be lining up on the opposite side of the field, as an opponent and as a member of the Chicago Bears.

For six seasons, Jared donned the purple uniforms of the Minnesota Vikings, and for a better part of those six years, he spent most of his time in the opponents backfield terrorizing the opposition. During Jared’s tenure with the squad, each and every season saw him post double digit sacks and in total, he finished his Vikings career with 85.5 quarterback sack.

2014 has not exactly gone the way that Jared or the Chicago Bears thought it would though.  Fighting through pneumonia early in the season and then the continued adjustment to joining a new team with a new defensive scheme, to date, Jared has only 1.5 sacks.

But this week, Jared is expected to get up and come to play, maybe more so than ever before. This week, he faces his former team and many of the teammates that he played beside during his time in Minnesota.

“I’m excited,” Jared said this week. “It’s going to be a fun game. It’s always fun when you get to compete against your friends. I’m excited to compete against my old brethren.”

While many Vikings fans are licking their chops getting ready for their team to face one of the league’s worst passing defenses, Jared is licking his chops preparing to face the struggling Matt Kalil on Sunday. It’s no secret. Matt Kalil, currently rated the 73rd best tackle in the entire league by ProFootballFocus.com, has experienced his fair share of criticism. While some defended him early, it’s becoming increasingly tough for anyone to side with Kalil on the matter. Fast-forward to this weekend and Allen is chomping at the bit to get out there and do his best to get into the Vikings backfield.

But, this whole knowing your opponent situation is most definitely a two way street. While Jared is looking for tells from the Vikings offense to maybe give him an advantage, the entire Vikings offense has the book on Jared as well.

Jared has always been known as a guy who will sacrifice the bigger picture if he sees an opportunity to get to the quarterback present itself. His argument there, sack the quarterback quickly and he won’t have the opportunity to exploit your error in approach. This is arguable Jared’s number one strength.

But how could the Vikings turn the tables and use Allen’s number one strength against him this weekend in Chicago?

Here are a few ideas of how we might see the Vikings exploit their former teammate on Sunday…

  1. Run the ball right at him. As mentioned above, Jared’s first priority is getting off the edge quickly and into the backfield a second later to sack the quarterback. With Jared teeing off every week to get more sacks, he leaves an opportunity for teams to run the football right into the gaps he is supposed to be covering.
  2. Give Allen the upper hand and dump the ball off for screen passes. With Jared’s focus on getting into the backfield, a simple “ole” from the offensive line allowing the running back and a trio of offensive linemen to slip underneath the pressure will likely be accounted for in the game.
  3. Position the blocks as if it is a passing play. Because of Jared’s focus on the backfield for each and every practice card, if he sees a tell from Kalil tipping the team’s hand to a run or a pass play, he’ll come off the ground fast and furiously. There is a downside to this aggressive approach though. If Matt Kalil were to say, set his footwork up as if he were falling back into pass protection, Jared would aggressively head into the backfield. And if on this same play, the Vikings actually ran the ball towards Jared’s side of the field, it wouldn’t take much more than a bit of deception and a forearm shiver for Kalil to incapacitate Jared’s pressure.
  4. Still, the main way that the Vikings can exploit Jared Allen is for Teddy Bridgewater to continue doing some of the things well that he’s been doing the last few weeks. Not holding on to the football too long, stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure along the edges and hitting his underneath options and dump downs will all help the Vikings offense exploit the over aggressive nature of Jared Allen.

Vikings fans have seen first hand both the good and the bad to Jared Allen’s aggressive style of rushing the quarterback. For years they appreciated it, but this weekend they’ll all be looking to take advantage of it. If I can see this, and the fans can make sense of it, you better believe that the Vikings coaching staff is well on their way to executing these sorts of adjustments to the game plan as well.

VikesCentric: Goodbye to post-bye week losses

Posted by: Joe Oberle Updated: November 14, 2014 - 8:31 AM

One thing that used to bug me about former Vikings head coach Denny Green was his fascination with the team’s record going in and out of a bye week. For me, there was too much emphasis on the games surrounding a bye. They were just games on the schedule, after all—what’s the big deal? But in today’s NFL, perhaps he was right—about the post-bye week game, anyway.

Going into the bye, a team wants a win so they don’t fixate on a loss and let it fester for two weeks. But you really don’t want to lose any game during any week of a season, and most pro football players know how to let a loss go—especially when they get time off. So a good pre-bye week record is a rather dubious mark, in my opinion—sorry Denny.

But post-bye week success is another matter, especially if you are a Minnesota Viking. In the past, Vikings players have come back from the bye with all kinds of issues that they created for themselves during their time off--from DUI’s to the infamous Love Boat excursion. But we aren’t going to go into all those bad memories.

The good news is that no Vikings player (that we know of) was arrested last week, and the only lingering distraction is the protracted reinstatement proceedings for Adrian Peterson. And that is not going to get resolved until next week, at the earliest, so it is no longer a bye-week distraction.

Regardless, the question remains: should we expect the Vikings to have trouble with this game coming out of the bye week? People can talk about a team’s post-bye-week record all they want (and they do), but each team is different. The Vikings have lost their four previous bye-week games, so that may not be a good sign, but I would say this year’s team is different enough to mitigate the relevancy.

At the very least, the coaching staff has changed, and since Denny Green took pride in having his team ready for the post-bye games, perhaps coaching has something to do with it. Mike Zimmer will be leading his team out of the bye as a head coach for the first time on Sunday, but we learned in the Star Tribune on Tuesday that he is 3-2-1 coming out of the bye as the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. So what is Zim’s attitude on the game?

“Sometimes it’s who you play. Sometimes it’s the quarterback,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “I know it’s a stat that a lot of people like to use coming out of byes, this and that. Usually, the good football teams win more than the others. That would be my guess.”

I do like how Zimmer thinks.

But, to give Denny the benefit of the doubt, maybe the modern day NFL player really likes his down time on a bye week to get away from football--as far as they can--and perhaps they are harder to get back on task once the break is over. Are there any signs of that in the league this season? Let’s take a look.

To this point in the season, (week 10 completed) there have been 26 of the 32 byes taken. That means 20 of the post-bye week games have been played--six teams (including the Vikings) had their bye last week and play their post-bye week game this weekend.  And of those 20 post-bye week games, a team coming off the bye only won seven of them or .350 percent. (It should be pointed out that in two of those games, both of the teams were coming off byes—Broncos vs. Cardinals and Packers vs. Bears. Throw those games out and it is five bye-team wins out of 16 games for .312 percent.)

This season sample, then, shows that it is harder to win coming off a bye week than not-–by about a margin of 2-to-1. There is a case to be made that some rust grows on bye-week teams since the margin of victory (or loss, as the case may be) in nine of the 20 games was double-digits, and six of them were margins of 16 points or more.

(Is there an advantage to playing at home after the bye week? In nine of the 20 games in which the bye-week team played at home, they won three times and lost six. For the 11 teams playing on the road after a bye, there were only four wins and seven losses, which seems to make sense. But it is really hard to draw any definitive conclusions from this small a sample size.)

Ultimately, a coach wants his team rested, ready and real healthy after a bye-week, and injury-wise the Vikings are doing quite well, with the possibility of tight end Kyle Rudolph (one of only two players on the injury report) rejoining the team for Sunday’s game. Certainly the team is rested, after a week out of their football gear. And as to being ready, Zimmer checked on that when the team returned to practice on Monday.

“I was curious to find out how they were mentally with their techniques, their footwork, their hand placements, the splits, everything that they did,” Zimmer said. “And actually I was impressed today, and I don’t get impressed much.”

It may be important to go back to Zimmer’s earlier point as to who you are playing after the bye week. The Vikings are getting the Chicago Bears, who are a week removed from their bye, but are a team heading in the wrong direction. The Bears, losers in five of their last six games, have given up more than 50 points in each of its past two contests—becoming only the second team in NFL history to do so in consecutive games.

The Vikings teams of the recent past (those same teams that had trouble out of the bye) have trouble winning in Chicago, but the current team is on a two-game winning streak for the first time this season, and they have to hope the bye week hasn’t stalled their momentum. Zimmer told his players that he is counting on that not being the case.

“He told us that good teams come back, and they don’t miss a beat,” safety Harrison Smith told the Star Tribune. “They pick up where they left off and keep improving. Him reminding us of that, guys were ready to go and get this thing rolling.”

If they do that, the Vikings can give Zimmer a 1.000 winning percentage as a head coming out of the bye. How about that, Denny?

Head over to VikingsJournal.com and check out A.J. Mansour's article on the struggling Chicago Bears 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT