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.

Posts about Lions

VikesCentric: What happened to the run defense?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 7, 2012 - 3:47 PM

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 Vikings have now allowed a running back to top 100 yards and score against them in three straight games: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch. Prior to this recent funk, they hadn't allowed three straight running backs to top 100 yards rushing since 2004 and hadn't allowed three straight running backs to top 100 yards rushing and score a touchdown against them since 2003. Lest we forget the week before Howling registered his first career 100-yard game against the Vikes, Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns against them.
 
Through their first five games of the season, the Vikings allowed an impressive 3.2 yards-per-carry – the second-best rate in the NFL – and did not permit a single running back touchdown. Altogether through five games they were ceding 78.6 rushing yards per game and had allowed just one rushing touchdown (to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford).
 
However, over the course of the last four games the Vikings have allowed 4.6 yards per carry. Their yards-per-game allowed has more than doubled to 165.8 yards per game. And they have allowed six more rushing touchdowns.
 
So, yeah, the Vikings' run defense is in just as much of a slump as their pass offense. If there were injuries to the front seven it might be somewhat understandable, but there aren't.
 
Head coach Leslie Frazier kicked off his Monday press conference a few days ago with a rather scathing assessment of his team's ability to stop the run lately.
 
"Defensively, our run defense doesn’t resemble the type of run defense we’re capable of playing" Frazier said. "We have to go back to the drawing board and come up with some ways to defend the run better than what we’re doing. We’ve got to look at some things and try to get things corrected and really almost start from square one when it comes to our rush defense. It’s not up to par by any means."
 
The Vikings' run defense "drawing board" had better elicit some answers in short order – not so much for this weekend's game against the pass-happy Lions, but for what lies ahead of them after the bye week. Three of the Vikings' final six games come against offenses that can and will run the ball all day if allowed, with two games against the Bears and one against the Texans. Matt Forte and Arian Foster are poised to pick up where Martin and Lynch left off unless something is done; and if they do, the Vikings won't have a chance of winning those games.
 
They'll likely look better stopping the run against the Lions this Sunday. Detroit ranks 22nd in rushing offense at 103.6 yards per game and in their first matchup with the Vikings this season, back in Week 4, they managed only 55 yards on 20 carries.
 
Even so, the Vikings would be wise not to relax if they find run defense success for one week against Mikel Leshoure and the Lions. Whatever the answer, be it execution, scheme, or a combination of both (which seems most likely) the Vikings stunning and sudden struggles against the run cannot be glossed over.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Thursday game gives Vikings the advantage

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 23, 2012 - 6:00 PM

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.

 
Of course the alternative was to play this game in Tampa, but the league probably didn't want one of their showcase games of the week to be played in front of stadium with empty seats and to be blacked out in the local market – as many games have been in Tampa the last few years.
 
Nonetheless, the Vikings have to be pleased with the advantage this week's game gives them… and make no mistake, it is an advantage. The numbers speak for themselves.
 
This is the first season in NFL history that the league has scheduled a Thursday night game every week of the season. The decision to go with Cee Lo Green on the NFL Network bumper music is hopefully a one-and-done deal, but it appears the Thursday night games themselves are here to stay.
 
Home teams have benefitted greatly from the Thursday night schedule, winning five of the six games played on Thursday nights this season. The only loss: the woefully-underperforming Panthers (who are 1-5 and just fired GM Marty Hurney on Monday) lost at home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in Week 3. Of course, there was probably no way the Panthers were going to win that game regardless of day or location.
 
Note: they moved the Week 1 Thursday night game to Wednesday night so as not to compete with President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Giants lost at home in a surprising win by the Cowboys that first Wednesday. Counting that game, home teams are 5-2 in mid-week games this season.
 
That's still a solid winning percentage for home teams, even considering the Giants/Panthers aberration. Thursday night home-field dominance is nothing new. Going back to last season, home teams are 13-4 on Thursday nights. That's a .760 winning percentage compared to a .615 winning percentage (64-40) enjoyed by home teams overall this season.
 
In a league of parity, a seemingly small thing such as a condensed schedule favors the home team.
 
NFL players and coaches are creatures of habit. When the game is on Sunday, they know what to be ready for – reviewing game film on Mondays, rest and community work on Tuesdays, practices Wednesday-Friday, etc. When the game is on Thursday, it's completely different. And for the road team, having to hop on a plane the day you're usually practicing for the first time all week can screw everything up. There's less time for coaches to game plan and less time for players to heal from injuries.
 
The Vikings now need to take full advantage of the scheduling benefit, get to 6-2, and take a few days off… because the same schedule makers that gave them a Thursday-nighter at home also back-loaded their schedule.
 
For those Vikings fans who haven't peeked ahead, the second half of the season kicks off with a game in Seattle – perhaps the toughest venue in the NFC, maybe even the entire NFL, in which to win as a road team. Then they have a winnable home game against the Lions followed by their bye in Week 11. After that: road games in four of the last six to finish the season -- at Chicago, Green Bay, St. Louis, and Houston with home games against the Bears and Packers to break up the road trip. The combined record of the Vikings' post-bye week opponents: 27-13 (.675). Ouch!
 
In other words, enjoy the comparatively primrose path while it lasts and enjoy the national spotlight Thursday night because the road is about to get rocky.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Percy's prolific pace

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 18, 2012 - 9:51 AM

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.

Carter duplicated the 122-reception total the following season in 1995, but so did some guy named Jerry Rice. That same season the Lions' Herman Moore one-upped them both with 123 catches. Moore's 123 receptions from 1995 were tied by Welker's total from 2009, but both rank second in NFL history behind the gaudy 143-reception total recorded by the Colts Marvin Harrison in 2002.
 
Harvin's current pace of 8.16 receptions per game puts him on a course for 131 receptions – which would be a new Vikings record, but would fall a dozen shy of Harrison's mark. Looking back at the last half of last season suggests this year's record-threatening pace isn't a fluke. Over his final eight games of 2011, Harvin caught 56 passes. That's a seven-reception-per game clip, which adds a little more credibility to this year's six-game sample size.
 
Harvin's chances of breaking Harrison's mark aren't great. He would need 95 receptions over his final 10 games. In other words, he finished last year on a seven-catch per game clip, has started this season at slightly more than eight per game, and now needs to ratchet up the pace closer to 10. Percy would need a lot more games like last week in Washington when he caught 11 passes. In his last 10 games, he has been in double-digit receptions four times. The Vikings are targeting Harvin between 10 and 11 times per game and he's catching 79 percent of those passes thrown his way. What that means is he'll need even more targets on average to have a shot at the NFL record, and he already ranks seventh in the league with 62 targets.
 
Realistically, it might not be in the cards for Percy to catch Marv. However, Carter's team record is absolutely within reach. In fact, he could even slow down a tad or have an off week and still surpass Carter.
 
The next seven days will be critical to whatever chances Harvin has of smashing records. The Vikings have two games – Sunday against the Cardinals and next Thursday against the Buccaneers – and they are two of the worst teams in the NFL when it comes to allowing receptions to wide receivers. Arizona ranks ninth in terms of wide receiver receptions allowed with 75 through six games. Tampa Bay is even worse, ranking seventh with 78 allowed through just five games. That's a pace of 15.6 wide receiver catches permitted per game by the Buccaneers, the third-worst rate in the NFL. It should be a particularly good seven days for those of you with Harvin in point-per-reception fantasy football leagues.
 
Percy needs to take full advantage of the next two soft matchups and reel in 23 catches between the two games. Doing so would put him exactly half-way to breaking Harrison's lofty record with exactly half of the season left to play.
 
Even that might not be good enough, however, because the second half of the Vikings schedule is littered with much better defenses when it comes to defending wide receivers. The schedule includes two games against the Bears, a game each against the tough Seattle and Houston secondaries, and a rematch with a Lions defense that limited Harvin to a season-low three receptions in Week 4. For what it's worth, Harvin had three receptions in his first game against the Lions last year too, and then bounced back with 10 in the second game.
 
Few players are more fun to watch than Harvin so it should be enjoyable for any football fan to watch him make a run at these records over the next 10 games. It would be even sweeter for Vikings fans if his pursuit continued to coincide with the team's run at the NFC North crown.
 
 
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: Surprising Vikings earning respect from national media

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 2, 2012 - 3:37 PM

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: 

ESPN: 14

CBS: 13

FOX: 14

NBC: 13

Yahoo: 15 

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.  

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: In defense of the offense

Posted by: Updated: October 2, 2012 - 11:25 AM

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.

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

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