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.
The holiday week and the bye week have combined to make this a perfect time for Vikings fans to take a step back, consider the big-picture landscape, and think about what they are thankful for this year when it comes to the Purple.
Like most fans, I have plenty to quibble about when it comes to our home club – I’m still trying to get over the Bucs loss and still trying to comprehend the enigma that is Christian Ponder - but when I remember where this franchise sat on January 1, 2012, there are a ton of positives that lead me to believe Vikings fans should be pleased with this year’s progress.
I’m thankful for Adrian Peterson’s inspirational work ethic, alien DNA, newborn-baby knees, and love of the game. It’s an absolute joy to watch him play every week, and it’s mindboggling that he looks this good after tearing up his knee last December.
I’m thankful for the 6-4 record and meaningful games down the stretch. Even with a healthy dose of Purple Kool-Aid in my system, not even my wildest offseason hopes had us sniffing a playoff spot.
I’m thankful for Percy Harvin, who has been arguably the NFL’s most valuable non-quarterback since the middle of the 2011 season. And I’m thankful that Leslie Frazier and Bill Musgrave have found creative ways to get him 166 touches over his last 16 full games.
I’m thankful for the stadium bill.
I’m thankful for Jared Allen’s outspoken attitude and on-field fire. I wish we could bottle up his passion and put it in the home team’s water cooler at Target Field.
I’m thankful for a healthy Antoine Winfield. Watching No. 26 fearlessly take on offensive linemen, tangle with tight ends, and blow up running backs in the backfield brings me as much joy as any AP run or Percy kickoff return.
I’m thankful for Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, and Jake Locker for assuring us that life isn’t always easy for second-year quarterbacks. Ponder’s fellow 2011 first-round picks have completed 58.0 percent of their passes, own a 80.5 quarterback rating, and are on teams that are a combined 7-23.
I’m thankful for the Vikings 2012 rookie class. Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Blair Walsh, and Rhett Ellison have all made major contributions, and we saw a spark from Jarius Wright in Week 10. It’s still too early for final grades on this group, but it looks like Rick Spielman deserves something close to an “A”.
I’m thankful for Brian Robison, who continues to remind us that some players are late-bloomers.
I’m thankful that Ponder remembered that Kyle Rudolph is on this team. Rudolph only saw eight combined targets in the Cardinals, Bucs and Seahawks games. That’s unacceptable. Kyle caught seven of his nine targets for 64 yards and a score in Week 10.
I’m thankful to John Sullivan and Kevin Williams for quietly and efficiently anchoring the two lines.
And, finally, I’m thankful that I’m not a Lions fan. Who wants to ruin their Turkey Day meal by watching their team fall in defeat? The Lions have lost eight straight Thanksgiving Day games, and they host the 9-1 Texans this Thursday. Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt should bring their forks in preparation for a slice of post-game turducken.
So, my fellow Vikings fans, what are you thankful for?
While Minnesota Vikings fans lament Christian Ponder's slump, fret over Percy Harvin's badly sprained ankle and rip the play calling of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, another significant concern exists on the other side of the ball. The Vikings run defense -- ranked among the best in the league a month ago -- has been obliterated the last four games.
The schedule-makers did the Vikings a favor by setting them up at home for their lone prime time game of the season. Said favor is even bigger considering the game is on a Thursday night.
We interrupt the Minnesota's Vikings NFC North contention for a look at an individual player's pursuit. Last year Jared Allen fell just one sack short of breaking the NFL's single-season record for sacks, settling for a team-record 22. This year it's Percy Harvin who's taking a run at the record books – for receptions.
Harvin's prolific pace finds him leading the NFL with 49 receptions, one ahead of the Patriots' Wes Welker. The 49 catches are the most by a Vikings player through the first six games of a season. In 1994, Cris Carter (who is overdue for the Hall of Fame, but that's another VikesCentric matter for another day) had 45 receptions through six games and finished with 122, an NFL record that stood for all of one season.
Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Vikings' loss to the Colts and in the days leading up to their game against the 49ers, football fans and pundits alike (yours truly included) were saying the Vikes "were who we thought they were." Maybe they'd win a few more games than last year, was the wide-spread belief. Maybe they'd go 5-11 or 6-10. But this wasn't a playoff team. Not yet.
Only those infected with the kind of blind homerism that manifests itself in predicting a win for the Vikings every week with no regard for facts or reality thought the 2012 edition was significantly better than last year's team. Everyone, including most homers, thought the Vikings would lose to the 49ers. Nearly as many thought their 11-game losing streak against their division would continue this past Sunday in Detroit.
Those Vikings homers are the ones looking pretty good right about now.
As it turns out, just two weeks after losing at Indy these Minnesota Vikings are on the short list of the NFL's biggest surprises at the quarter pole of the season.
A quick aside: Minnesotans love getting national attention and respect. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I know this first-hand. It must be something in the lake water. Either that or it stems from some kind of widespread self-esteem issue that permeates the region. We want everyone to know that we aren't flyover land. We're not covered in snow drifts 10 months a year. We're good enough, we're strong enough, and gosh darn it people should like us… and our sports teams. So we go out of our way to pat ourselves on the back and point out things we do well in an effort to get the attention of the national narrative and force the mainstream media to overcome their East- or West-coast bias.
Take heart, Vikings nation. Your first-place Vikings are getting noticed by the national media. Wins against the 49ers and Lions – two playoff teams a year ago – have earned them growing respect on a national stage, even a few accolades.
For proof, look no further than the Inter-web's NFL Power Rankings. For the uninitiated, "Power Rankings" are a weekly 1-to-32 ranking of all the NFL teams, done by most large networks, newspapers and sports web sites. They are exactly what they sound like: someone's opinion of the NFL teams ranked in order from best-to-worst.
These NFL Power Rankings universally had the Vikings near the bottom in the 28-32 range prior to Week 1, and rightfully so given their 3-13 record a year ago and lack of giant free agent signings or splashy rookies.
Things look differently four weeks later. With the possible exception of the Arizona Cardinals, no team has enjoyed a bigger leap in the eyes of the national "experts."
Here's a sampling of where some Internet outlets have currently placed the Vikings in their Power Rankings:
In other words, the Vikings are now middle-of-the-pack good. They are respectable. They are worthy of mention. They are no-longer also-rans or doormats in the eyes of national football experts. That's a far cry from a month ago when no one was paying attention or giving them any chance of being good.
So you're saying there's a chance.
More accolades: Peter King calls Christian Ponder this year's "pleasant surprise" in this week's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column. CBS Sports' Pete Prisco calls Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier "an early candidate to be the NFL Coach of the Year." FOX play-by-play commentator Tom Brennamen is seemingly the president of the Percy Harvin Fan Club, saying if he could have any offensive player in the NFL on his team it would be Harvin. Upon reflection, Brennamen clarified himself by saying he'd rather have Harvin than any other non-quarterback. Good enough. SI.com NFL columnist Don Banks devoted 600-something words to the Vikes Monday, concluding "Even if next to no one saw them coming, these Vikings aren't going away."
Indeed, the Vikings are winning games instead of settling for moral victories, and for that they are earning a measure of respect. The upcoming schedule is suddenly dotted with winnable games -- even some games in which the Vikings will be favored. Serious thoughts of a playoff run –though still just in their infancy -- are no longer considered complete and utter folly.
Buckle up, Vikings fans. Your team has graduated to relevance. Next up: being a contender. We'll see if they are ready to take that next step.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
Even when you're riding high at 3-1 and shocking the world with back-to-back wins over 2011 playoff teams, some people just aren't satisfied. Yes, the Vikings knocked off the Lions 20-13 on Sunday afternoon, but given the Eeyorean nature (did I just coin a term?) of the Purple's fanbase – well-deserved, mind you, after 52 years of frustration – the win just wasn't "pretty" enough to satisfy some Helga-horned observers.
Most of the postgame grumbling was aimed at the Vikings offense, which produced just two Blair Walsh field goals and advanced the ball into the red zone once all day. And while it's true that Christian Ponder finished with a mere 111 passing yards – the fewest in a Vikings victory since Brett Favre's first game (Sept. 13, 2009, at Cleveland), when Brad Childress' foot was still firmly on the brake pedal – a deeper dive into the stats reveals an offensive performance on Sunday that was anything but … well … offensive.
First, the ugly totals: Detroit outgained the Vikings 341-227, had 23 first downs to the Vikings' 15, and even won the time-of-possession battle (30:42 to 29:18) despite rushing for just 55 yards.
However, those totals are skewed by two factors:
1. Because the Vikings scored touchdowns on Percy Harvin's kickoff return and Marcus Sherels' punt return, they only had nine offensive drives, compared to Detroit's 12. That matters. The Vikings' average drive on Sunday lasted seven plays and covered
45 25 yards, so if they had managed average performances on those two drives forfeited to the special-teams touchdowns, you can tack on 50 more yards of total offense. (NOTE: Thanks to reader flipside42 for catching that transcription error. Time to switch to decaf.)
2. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson made his Vikings debut and had a huge impact on the game, despite his pedestrian totals of four catches for 50 yards. He also used his speed to draw two pass interference calls against Detroit's Bill Bentley, both of which put the Vikings into Lions territory and led to Walsh field goals. Those 57 yards of penalties don't count toward the total offensive output.
Thus, if you give the Purple 50 more yards for two average drives the offense missed (could have been more, could have been less) and if you add on the 57 penalty yards drawn by Simpson, the 227-yard game from the offense looks a bit more respectable at 334 yards.
And yes, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas. But those of you who want to find the cloud in Sunday's silver lining of a victory should look beyond the surface-level statistics before you start moping about the Vikings offense.
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. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
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