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.
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Zero touchdowns, zero rushes, zero yards, zero snaps. That’s how Adrian Peterson’s stat line reads for this year’s four game preseason session. While every single one of his teammates was out on the field getting into game shape for this weekend’s season opener, Adrian stayed on the sidelines simply observing.
But there wasn’t any nagging injuries pushing him to the side, there was no differing viewpoint with the coaching staff. Nope, it was just the plan from the beginning to keep Peterson sidelined throughout the exhibition season.
This idea isn’t anything new for the rookie coaching staff. In each of the previous two seasons, Adrian has had the same empty stat line through the preseason.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Peterson said this week. “For me even more so, not participating in the preseason…The first couple years [of sitting out] it was hard. I’m a savvy vet now so I understand the big scheme.”
The idea behind this concept is to protect him. Keep any and all needless wear and tear off his body and he should last longer. Seems to make sense.
“I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Peterson continued. “Preseason, there’s a lot that comes with that, wear and tear on the body and taking chances as well. We’d just rather not take any chances. We’ll take chances, but take them in the regular season when it counts.”
So, with no in-game practice, no contact and no full speed play, what can we expect from that man that we so affectionately call “the best running back in the league” when he takes to the football field for the first time this year against the Rams on Sunday?
If history is any indicator, Adrian isn’t missing much by sitting out of the preseason.
In seasons where he hasn’t seen any carries during the preseason (2012, 2013), Adrian is averaging 88.5 yards per game in the first week of the year. He also has five touchdowns over those two games and is averaging over 5 yards per carry (5.06).
Extend that out to full season statistics in years where he has no preseason activity and Peterson is averaging 1,681.5 yards per year in those seasons. That’s more than 300 yards better than in seasons where he has played the preseason (1,350.4 yards).
But what about against this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams?
Admittedly, this year’s Rams squad is a different bunch than the group that Peterson most recently faced in 2012, but there are a few hangovers. That said, the last time Adrian took the field against St. Louis it was a Week 15 matchup in which Adrian ran wild for 212 yards including a career long 82-yard touchdown run.
“I remember that game,” Peterson said earlier this week. “From the secondary on down, those guys were talking so much noise. Then we ripped the long run on them and they got quiet. Hopefully things play out the same way [this year].”
AP also remembered getting off to a fast start last year in the Vikings week one matchup against the Detroit Lions. On his first carry of the 2013 season (again, zero preseason reps), Adrian cracked off a 78-yard touchdown run!
For what it’s worth, Adrian is predicting the same sort of success this weekend against the Rams.
“Touchdown, first run,” Peterson told us with a smile on his face.
It’s now the third year of Adrian being confined to the sidelines during the preseason and just like AP is finally figuring out the value in it, it appears that the fans are learning as well.
It goes without saying that we would all like to see Adrian on the field as much as possible during any point in the season. But if this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams, can teach us anything, understanding the balance of the risk and reward for playing during preseason is an important medium to find. They lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending ACL injury during this preseason.
But if there was still any doubt remaining in your mind, hopefully Adrian’s highlighted track record of success can provide a little added comfort as well. He will be fine. He’s a professional, and he’s still the best running back in the league.
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Immediately handing out letter grades to measure how well teams did in the NFL Draft can be a trite waste of time. Let’s be honest, nobody knows specifically how well the drafted players will pan out. Thus, assigning letter grades before any of them have suited up for their new teams – or even signed their contracts -- is presumptuous. It presumes the author or blogger has detailed insight on exactly how talented each player is, how hard they’ll work and how well they will fit the systems into which they’ve been drafted. More significantly, it presumes an ability to, you know, foretell the future. Coaching changes, roster changes, scheme changes, luck, suspensions, injuries, etc. are impossible to forecast.
However, my guess is that if you make your way around the Internet the next 48 hours looking for draft analysis you’ll see a lot of letter grades. They make for effective headlines. That’s about it. Show me a draft from five years ago and then maybe we can talk letter grades.
So what can we adequately ascertain in the immediate aftermath of the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason? We can gauge how well a team like the Vikings addressed their perceived needs… and not much more. We don’t know what their big board looked like. We don’t know what trades were offered or turned down. We can only surmise they followed their plan. In light of that, I’d give the Vikings a passing grade on the pass/fail system. Or maybe just a big thumbs up.
Going into the draft the Vikings appeared to have needs at every level of their defense as well as quarterback, backup running back and offensive line depth. To that end, the Vikings successfully checked every box. On defense, they wound up with two linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs (two corners, and a corner being converted to safety). On offense, they landed a possible long-term answer at quarterback, a versatile guard and an interesting running back.
As draft day approached general manager Rick Spielman was very open about his desire to accumulate more picks – to turn his eight picks into 10 picks. That’s precisely what they did. Again, to that end, the Vikings succeeded.
Prior to the draft, I went on the record in this space predicting (like many others did) that the Vikes would trade back and go defense with their first pick and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks would still be available when it was their turn to pick again. I also suggested on radio airwaves (and really to anyone who asked) that the Vikings might look for a pass-catching type of tailback to complement Adrian Peterson – someone like a Darren Sproles, who thrived under Norv Turner in San Diego.
We have a bingo on all of the above.
Yes, the Vikings executed their stated plan of stockpiling picks, drafted players at positions of apparent need and even fulfilled some of my educated guesses. That’s a trifecta or something.
Anthony Barr gives them a raw athlete at linebacker, the likes of which the Vikings have never had. Barr will provide immediate help rushing the passer and should develop quickly into a versatile, three-down impact defender. Watching him on tape is reminiscent of watching Jason Taylor. The ceiling is extremely high. Did the Vikings take him too early? Who knows? Again, we’re not assigning letter grades. What we know is that the Vikings really wanted him and had to take him when they did. What we’ve heard is that the Lions (11th pick) coveted him, the Titans (12th pick) really liked him and the Cowboys (16th pick) were prepared to take him. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN that he heard from two other teams who picked soon after the Vikings that they would have taken Barr if he had still been on the board.
Anyone familiar with this VikesCentric space or my Twitter account (@Bo_Mitchell) knows I was beating the drum loudly for Johnny Manziel to be the quarterback the Vikings drafted. It would have been a lot of fun if they had done so. I’m a Manziel believer and love to watch him play. I think his skills will translate well enough to the NFL and his highlight reel plays will be on ESPN for years. Finding a replacement in Cleveland for rumored-to-be-suspended All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will be tough to do so that hurts his immediate outlook, but I won’t back away from my overall Manziel assessment.
Having said all of that, I also really like Teddy Bridgewater. He won’t be as fun to watch as Manziel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bridgewater has great mechanics and footwork; he’s calm under pressure, is as tough as they come and has football smarts. His arm is plenty strong enough and the metrics suggest clearly he was the most accurate passer in the nation last season. His work in a pro-style offense in college will definitely help – as will working with coach Turner. He might never be as fun to watch as Manziel, but few will be. Bridgewater might turn out to be better than Manziel for all I know. If I had to loosely compare him to a current NFL quarterback, it would be Russell Wilson… and he’s turned out okay so far.
In third-round pick Scott Crichton and the first of their three seventh-round picks Shamar Stephen, the Vikings added more depth for coach Zimmer’s blueprint of rotating defensive linemen. The trio of sixth and seventh-round picks they made to bolster their defensive secondary should help. None appear destined to start anytime soon, but depth is crucial in this pass-happy league. The more bites of the apple you take, the better chance one pans out, so for the Vikings’ sake hopefully at least one of the three – Antone Exum, Kendall James or Jabari Price – sticks around and has an impact.
Back on offense, fifth-round selection David Yankey has the makings of a superior backup or very solid starter. He should push Charlie Johnson and/or Brandon Fusco for playing time at guard at some point, perhaps early this season.
Lastly, the pick with whom I am most intrigued is cornerback-turned-quarterback/running back Jerrick McKinnon out of Georgia Southern (their third-round pick). I’m not sure what to make of him yet but his combine numbers were absurd. It sounds like the Vikings plan to use him as a speedy, pass-catching running back and possible punt returner – their version of Sproles. He could turn out to be a great deal of fun to watch and a good change of pace to Peterson.
Letter grade: incomplete, but it looks pretty good on paper.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
There aren't many outside of Winter Park who seriously expect the Minnesota Vikings to win on Sunday. You know it's true.
In fact, given their history at Soldier Field, one has to wonder just how confident the Vikings themselves are of coming away with a win in Chicago this Sunday. Obviously, not a single person employed by the Vikings would ever admit such a thing on the record, but it is human nature to have such doubts. A look at the track record tells us why.
It's perfectly logical to question the Vikings' ability to win in Chicago – where the Bears have won the last five in a row and 11 of the last 12. That's an unmistakable trend, folks. Yes, the Vikings beat the Bears the last time these two teams squared off in Week 14 last season, but that was at Mall of America Field.
|Vikings vs. Bears in Chicago|
The Bears have defeated the Vikings by an average score of 28.4 to 17.6 over the last 12 games in the Chicago. My Richfield math tells me that's a double-digit difference on average. That's not promising for the Purple.
As the table shows, the Vikings' lone win in the Windy City in the last 12 years came in 2007. They needed overtime as well as 224 rushing yards and three touchdowns from a rookie named Adrian Peterson to win that day. They might need a similar Herculean effort from the MVP to do it again – which of course is never out of the question when it comes to Peterson.
Regardless of what Adrian does, Christian Ponder needs to play better and the defense needs to figure out a way to stop Matt Forte or he'll do the same thing Reggie Bush did to them in Week 1.
Moreover, if the Vikings are serious about their playoff chances – and I have every reason to believe that they are -- they'll have to buck the odds and figure out a way to win. If you've been paying attention to football at all this past week you have undoubtedly heard the daunting statistic about 0-2 teams and the postseason: since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 0-2 teams have gone on to make the playoffs only 11.6 percent of the time.
Of course, starting 0-2 on the road isn't the worst thing in the world. I think the Vikings will likely lose this Sunday, but I also expect them to win their next two games against the Cleveland Browns (at home) and Pittsburgh Steelers (in London). I'm guessing the percentage of teams that start 2-2 and make the playoffs is considerably higher than 11.6.
Should Vikings fans be concerned if they fall to 0-2 this Sunday? Of course. Should they throw in the towel on 2013 if they lose? Absolutely not.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
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.
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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