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 defense

VikesCentric: It's never as bad as it looks

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: November 8, 2013 - 12:52 AM

Of course, the converse of that headline also is true – it's never as good as it looks.

The 2012-13 Vikings are a case study of this theorem.

As I'm sure you all remember, last year the Vikings went 10-6 and reached the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. It was an out-of-nowhere season after they went 3-13 in Leslie Frazier's first year as head coach.

But lost in the giddiness of the surprise postseason berth and Adrian Peterson's super-human comeback season was the fact that the 2012 Vikings massively overachieved. In 16 games, they scored just 31 more points than they allowed. They gave up 215 more yards than they gained. Based on statistics, they probably should have been – at best – a .500 team.

So how did they become a playoff team? Well, football is a game of emotions and momentum – within each game, and from game-to-game. If you win a few that maybe you shouldn’t, suddenly you’ve got confidence, whether you earned those wins or they were based on blind luck. If you win a few games early, you start to believe you’re good, and that confidence can carry over to the next time you’re up against it with the game on the line.

It’s also the nature of the hyper-intense schedule inherent in football. In baseball, if you blow one play that costs you a game, that’s 1/162 of the season. In basketball or hockey, it’s about 1/80 of the season. But if you blow one play that costs you a game in the NFL, that’s 1/16 of the season. Everything is magnified – for better or for worse.

Let’s travel back to 2012. The Vikings started the season by winning a game they probably had no business winning. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts with a 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left and the Purple trailed 23-20. But Christian Ponder hit Devin Aromashodu (remember him?) with a 26-yard bullet and flipped a 6-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph to set up Blair Walsh for a 55-yard game-tying field goal as time ran out. The Vikings won in overtime, and suddenly they had confidence they could win tight games – which they did with regularity the rest of the year. In fact, they went 5-1 in games decided by one score last year.

Push ahead 12 months. The Vikings opened the season in Detroit, entered the fourth quarter down by a field goal and lost by 10. They followed that with a loss at Chicago, giving up the winning touchdown on the Bears’ final drive. A week later they repeated that pattern against Cleveland, and before you knew it, they were 0-3 and the season was circling the bowl. Even with Thursday night’s win over Washington, the Vikings are 2-3 in games decided by one score. When the game hits crunch time, this year they haven’t gotten (or made their own) breaks.

That’s not to say there aren’t personnel problems on the 2013 Vikings. Or coaching problems. There certainly are. But the personnel and coaches aren’t much different from last year. I’d argue that if they’d found a way to win two or three of those first three games, it would have snowballed into a positive trend as the players gained confidence. Maybe that midseason lull doesn’t happen. Maybe they don’t feel the need to grab Josh Freeman and throw the whole quarterback situation into flux. Maybe Frazier still has a modicum of job security.

Yeah, that’s a lot of maybes. And yeah, it’s always annoying when a fan of a 2-7 team says, “We’re just four our five plays away from maybe being 7-2!”

But last year, the Vikings were four or five plays away from going 5-11. Instead, they finished 10-6. The ball bounced their way last year, masking their flaws. This year, their flaws have been exposed.

But next year? With a new coach, a new quarterback (sorry, even Thursday night’s mostly stellar performance doesn’t have me buying stock in Ponder) and a fresh slate, don’t be shocked if this roller coaster ride resumes in a positive direction.

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: 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. San Francisco

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 25, 2013 - 11:46 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 Sunday night against the Niners:

1. Adrian Peterson – Yep, he flashed onto the field for two plays and then flashed right back to the sideline. But anybody who feels cheated or misled by his short appearance – or anybody who's offended they even bothered to play him – needs to understand the relationship between the NFL and its broadcast partners. The tail truly wags the dog here. NBC knows its only hope of drawing a rating higher than a Packer fan's BAC is to hype the presence of the NFL MVP. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth spent half of their intro segment talking about Peterson. They had an extended interview with him to pimp at halftime. They can't sell the significance of an insignificant game if the one guy they're talking about spends the entire night on the sidelines. Yeah, they're insulting the intelligence of their audience if they think we'd be fooled into thinking Peterson would play a huge role in the game. But then again, what is the NFL preseason if not a giant insult to our collective intelligence?

2. NFL officials – They're in midseason form. No need for more preseason work – they'll get repetitive stress injuries in their flag-throwing elbows. Yeah, you can point the gnarly finger of blame at the players, who made their fair share of bonehead plays (looking at you, Lavelle Hawkins), but 17 penalties for 193 yards seemed a bit excessive. Those two personal foul calls on Matt Kalil especially carried the distinct stench of officials trying to "set the tone" by calling any ticky-tack infraction they see. I guess the lesson here is, if a guy touches you, make sure you fall down and let your limbs flail about in a comical fashion. That's the recipe for a sure 15 yards in the NFL of 2013. 

3. Josh Robinson – Well, he didn't exactly flash the way he'd want to flash, but he probably memorized the names of all the 49ers' wide receivers given how much time he spent looking at the backs of their jerseys all night. It was a rather troubling performance from the man the Vikings hope will replace Antoine Winfield at the slot corner position, especially given the injury concerns with Chris Cook and the learning curve for rookie Xavier Rhodes. Let's just say that if Robinson doesn't turn things around quickly, opposing quarterbacks will be looking to see wherever No. 21 is lining up on every play.

4. Those wacky 49ers fans – It's not often that a team's security staff has to call in reinforcements to keep spectators from staging their own track meet on the field. Fortunately, the SFPD had more success keeping fans off the field than they did catching the Zodiac killer, but it's still kind of embarrassing when Jerome Simpson makes the biggest tackle of the night for the Purple. Of course, NBC refused to show us what happened when the sacred field was invaded, so even though Michaels and Collinsworth basically gave us a play-by-play of the action on the field, our tender psyches were spared visual proof that some fans are occasionally overserved and wind up making fools of themselves. Yes, even NBC is in midseason pearl-clutching form.

So what will you remember most about Game 3 of the eagerly awaited 2013 Vikings preseason? We'll take your comments below.

 

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: Four who flashed vs. Houston

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: August 10, 2013 - 1:34 AM

We're going to debut 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 Texans:

1. Stephen Burton – The Vikings' seventh-round pick in 2011 hasn't had much of a chance to shine since leaving the hardscrabble (we assume) fields of West Texas A&M. With seven total catches in his first two NFL seasons, he's clearly fighting for a job this year. His performance on Friday gave him a leg up on the competition. The 52-yard catch-and-run, complete with the stop-on-a-dime cutback at midfield that broke the play wide open, surely caught your eye. I was more sold on his downfield blocking, particularly on Zach Line's rumble down the sideline for the Vikings' sole touchdown of the night. Those are the kinds of plays that will help Burton stick around in Minneapolis for another glorious season of Vikings football.

2. Cordarrelle Patterson – We're going to have to learn how to spell this guy's name without looking it up pretty soon (pro tip: if you think a consonant should be doubled, you're probably right). Because it's becoming increasingly clear the Vikings are going to find a way to get the ball in his hands this year. His 50-yard kickoff return to open the game electrified the crowd (as much as one can electrify a preseason crowd) and he showcased his guts and girth by going over the middle and bouncing off would-be tacklers en route to a 4-catch, 54-yard night. I'm still not sure he got all 10 toes in bounds on that sideline catch in the second quarter, and you can quibble about him letting a Matt Cassel dying quail slip through his fingers, but for one week at least, you can close your eyes and imagine Patterson picking up at least some of the slack left by Percy Harvin's departure.

3. Sharrif Floyd – Playing the role of Kevin Williams on Friday night (because Williams was playing the role of a highly paid spectator, like most of the Vikings' starters), Floyd batted down a pass at the line, broke through for a tackle-for-loss, and generally provided energy on the second-team d-line. He gave everybody quite a scare when he crumpled to the ground with a knee injury, but postgame reports indicate that he could have returned had the game meant anything, which, of course, it most definitely did not, unless you're the Wilfs' accountant. But he's got a lot on his mind this week anyway, so Floyd joined his mentor on the sidelines for the remainder of the game and that's probably for the best.

4. John Carlson – No former Notre Dame player who didn't have a fake girlfriend was more eager to see the 2013 season begin than Carlson, who cashed a big paycheck to come back home and then caught only eight balls in another injury-riddled season. On Friday, with fellow ex-Domer Kyle Rudolph a mildly interested spectator, Carlson was on the other end of two passes from Cassel. One took the offense inside the 5-yard line before True MVP Blair Walsh hit the first of his two field goals on the night. The other was a quick-hitter that resulted in Carlson being quickly hit by numerous Texans. That he held onto both balls was a good sign. That he popped right back up and rejoined the fray was an even better sign. You might have heard that multiple tight ends are all the rage in the NFL these days, and if the Vikings can pair Rudolph with a healthy Carlson for 16 games, their offense will be a bit more dangerous on days when Peterson is held to 175 or so rushing yards.

 

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.

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