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 Antoine Winfield

VikesCentric: Ten Players Who Will Make or Break the 2012 Vikings (Part 1)

Posted by: Updated: July 25, 2012 - 8:52 AM

First, allow myself to explain… myself. This list is not intended to be a list of the 10 best players on the Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knows that Jared Allen is really good, and that he’s going to sack the opposing quarterback roughly once per game. We all understand how good Adrian Peterson is, and that the Vikings offense is infinitely more effective and dynamic when he’s on the field. We know that Antoine Winfield is still one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the NFL when he’s healthy. Obviously, the season will head South in a hurry if Allen stinks, AP isn’t 100%, Winfield gets injured, Matt Kalil goes bust, and Percy Harvin misses time with migraines. So, you won’t see those names on this list. Instead, what you’ll see are the names of the ten players I believe will make or break the Vikings in 2012.

By “make,” let’s assume that the best-case scenario is a playoff berth this year. Barring the unlikely event that every player on this list instantly turns into a Hall of Fame caliber player, the Vikings are a long shot to even make the playoffs, let alone do something crazy like advance to the Super Bowl. So, the playoffs are the upside. “Break” would essentially be the worst-case scenario (i.e. last season). If the Vikings are to make the playoffs, they’ll need their stars to be healthy and productive, and they’ll need huge contributions from the majority of these players. We’ll start with five today in Part I, with the rest to come in Part II.

CB Chris Cook – Cook has more to prove in 2011 than any other Viking, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that his ability to stay on the field and out of trouble might be the single most important determinant of the team’s success in 2012. It’s obviously too soon to anoint him as anything other than a talented player with potential, but he was undeniably the team’s best cover corner early last year (this highly recommended article by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert shows how dramatically the team’s pass defense collapsed after Cook left the lineup after Week 6). There were other factors (and other injured players) that contributed to the catastrophic 2011 pass defense, but Cook had already stacked up favorably in man-to-man coverage with Calvin Johnson against the Lions in Week 3 and was starting to develop into the shutdown force the Vikings envisioned when they grabbed him with the second pick of the second round of the 2010 draft. If Cook proves capable of covering the Johnsons, Nelsons, and Marshalls of the NFC North, it will allow the Vikings to more easily compensate for other weaknesses in the secondary.

S Harrison Smith – You don’t need me to tell you how awful the Vikings secondary was last year. The focus fell mainly on a rag-tag bunch of cornerbacks that failed miserably to plug the gaping holes left by an injured Antoine Winfield and a suspended Chris Cook, but the team’s safeties were atrocious. Hussain Abdullah was at least somewhere near average, which is extremely high praise in comparison to Mistral Raymond, Tyrell Johnson, and Jamarca Sanford (the latter of which graded out as literally the worst safety in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus). Smith was brought in to start on Day 1, and his ability to provide some sort of presence in the middle of the field – both as a ball-hawk in the secondary and as a run-stuffer in the box – will help dictate how the Vikings stack up against the high-powered passing attacks of the NFC North.

LB Erin Henderson – If Henderson plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year, it won’t be hard to determine why. Coming off a breakout season in 2011 that saw him become an NFL starter for the first time and one of the best outside linebackers in the league (according to Pro Football Focus, Henderson graded out as the fourth-best OLB, third-best against the run), Henderson found himself in the awkward position of not being wanted. He made headlines with a public rant about his belief that the Vikings weren’t offering him what he felt he deserved prior to free agency, but when the Vikes called his bluff and then no other teams stepped up to the plate, he signed a team-friendly one-year deal worth “only” $2 million. It’s a prove-it contract for a young player the league obviously doesn’t quite believe in just yet, and you can bet Henderson is out to prove his 2011 wasn’t a fluke. With his brother E.J. no longer part of the equation, Henderson will be asked to continue his improvement in 2012. With the unproven Jasper Brinkley expected to take over at middle linebacker, it’ll be on Henderson and Chad Greenway to lead this linebacking corps. The team undoubtedly wants Henderson to prove he’s deserving of a more lucrative long-term contract; if he does, the middle of the field will be in good hands.

K Blair Walsh – Let’s be honest; you want Blair Walsh to fail. Yes, you. You hated that the Vikes “wasted” a 6th-round draft pick on a kicker, and you couldn’t believe it when they kicked fan and locker room favorite Ryan Longwell to the curb in favor of a stupid kicker who couldn’t even kick field goals very well during his senior year of college. You’re just waiting for him to miss his first game-losing three-ball as time expires, at which point you’ll take to the message boards to vilify General Manager Rick Spielman for his inability to build an NFL franchise and sing to the heavens that the Vikings would have won that game if Longwell was still their kicker. But what if Walsh doesn’t fail? What if he makes the kicks he’s supposed to? What if he nails a few from 50-plus yards? What if he actually can kick the ball into the end zone and pin the opponents back at their own 20-yard line? What if a defense that can use all the help it can get benefits greatly from an opponent having to drive 80 yards every time instead of 70? What if Spielman was right about Walsh? What if lopping Longwell’s millions off the books allows the Vikings to pursue a higher profile free agent next offseason? What if Spielman’s youth movement starts to pay immediate dividends? Simply because the situation is so intriguing – both on the field and in the front office – Walsh is a key player for the 2012 Vikings.

WR Jerome Simpson – The offseason reports on Simpson have been equal parts meaningless and glowing. Vikings coaches would have us believe they found the steal of the century in Simpson, another young player who seemingly fits perfectly into the offense as a deep threat the team so sorely lacked last season. And, frankly, he does. His career arc would suggest that the 2008 second-round draft pick is ready to turn into a serious threat for 70 catches, 1,000 yards, and six-to-eight touchdowns. But that’s what Bernard Berrian’s pre-Vikings career arc might have suggested too, and Berrian didn’t come shackled with a three-game suspension for having violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. If Simpson can stay on the field and effectively stretch the defense, everyone from Christian Ponder to Percy Harvin to Kyle Rudolph to Adrian Peterson will have more room to operate. If not, the team will need a huge contribution from a batch of mediocre veterans (Devin Aromashodu) and mid-round draft picks (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright) to step up in a big way.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and the Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post, a new fantasy football content site. He has written for Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on 100.3 FM KFAN. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

VikesCentric: Vikings secondary can only get better

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: June 19, 2012 - 8:31 AM

The Vikings are holding their three-day mandatory mini-camp this week at Winter Park and one of the most mandatory things they need to figure out between now and their Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is how to improve their secondary.

Actually, it shouldn't be too difficult to improve given how low the bar was set last year. The Vikings' secondary was bad -- historically bad -- in 2011.

Their Quarterback Rating allowed (107.6) was the second-worst mark in the history of keeping track of such things. Their eight interceptions were tied for the lowest in the league despite the fact they also tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks. There was a lot of pressure from Jared Allen and company, but little to show for it. They couldn't cover or produce turnovers.

That's a bad combination.

Getting Antoine Winfield back from last year's broken collarbone will obviously help a lot. So too will getting some kind of return on investment from 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook. Cook's off-field issues coupled with the sudden retirement a few weeks ago of 2009 third-round pick Asher Allen underscores the Vikings' biggest problem in the secondary: they haven't drafted particularly well.

Actually, that's being kind. Their drafting of defensive backs over the last 12 years (starting with the 2000 NFL Draft) has been nothing short of catastrophic.

Consider the following: from 2000 to 2011 the Vikings drafted a total of 18 cornerbacks and safeties. Those 18 defensive backs have played a grand total of 38 seasons in the NFL – or slightly more than two seasons per player – and have combined for just 35 interceptions. Do the math. That's less than two career interceptions per defensive back that the Vikings have drafted since the turn of the century. It's also less than one interception per season. That's not good.

Are interceptions the only way to measure the value of a cornerback or safety? Absolutely not, but it's a very good metric. And when you consider that more than half of the interceptions (20) from those 18 players came from two just players -- Cedric Griffin and Brian Williams -- it's even more unsettling.

Compounding the problem, the Vikings have shown a particular penchant of swinging and missing on defensive backs as high as the second and third rounds, including the aforementioned Allen and Cook. Tyrell Johnson (2008 second round) left this offseason with two pickoffs to his credit in four seasons. Remember Marcus McCauley (2007 third round), Dustin Fox (2005 third round), Willie Offord (2002 third round) and Eric Kelly (2001 third round)? The four of them combined for five career interceptions.

But many of those players were selected under previous player personnel regimes, some during the "triangle of authority" years.

Recently-anointed general manager Rick Spielman is undoubtedly ready to turn the page, starting with this past April's draft. You can bet Spielman is counting heavily on this year's third-round selection, lightning-fast corner Josh Robinson out of UCF, to buck the unfortunate Vikings' draft trend of early-round misfires in the secondary.

The very early reports on Robinson are exactly what you'd expect of a guy who ran the fastest 40 at the combine: he's a blur. The Vikings also appear to have struck gold with their second first-rounder from this year's draft, safety Harrison Smith. If the two of them can contribute right away – and Smith definitely should since he's penciled in as a starter – and other offseason additions such as former Bears corner Zack Bowman and former Ravens corner Chris Carr are even serviceable, the Vikings secondary will be better in 2012.

It's far too early to tell just how much better they'll be, but let's face it: they can't be worse. I'm boldly predicting an improvement to mediocrity and a return to double-digit interceptions.

Hey, it's a start.

The smokescreen and Matt Kalil

Posted by: Updated: April 26, 2012 - 9:43 AM
No matter what the Vikings do with their No. 1 pick on Thursday night, you have to hand it to General Manager Rick Spielman. He's put on a clinic on how to convince the world that the Vikings won't make the obvious pick with the third selection of the first round. 
 
Make no mistake, Kalil is, and always has been, the consensus third-best player in the draft, and he plays a position of dire need for the Vikings. Like it or not, the future of the franchise is inexorably tied to the success or failure of quarterback Christian Ponder. And the best way to allow Ponder to succeed is to protect him. 
 
Of course, there are other needs. But neither the secondary nor the wide receiving corps is as shaky as the offensive line. At cornerback, the Vikings have brought in several serviceable players in free agency and will get both Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back on the field. While Cook, Winfield, Chris Carr, and Zack Bowman aren't exactly causing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, or Jay Cutler to lose any sleep and adding a potential shutdown corner like LSU's Morris Claiborne would be nice, the secondary simply isn't as much of a need as is the offensive line.
 
Justin Blackmon sure looks like an explosive player, and just the kind of dynamic receiver that could make Ponder's job a heckuva lot easier. Adding Blackmon to group of receivers that includes Percy Harvin, two capable pass-catching tight ends, and high-risk, high-reward free agent Jerome Simpson would be one way of helping Ponder reach his potential.
 
But Ponder won't be able to find Blackmon open deep downfield if he's flat on his back (or in the training room). And that's what's going to happen if his blind side continues to be "protected" by Charlie Johnson, who graded out as one of the worst blindside blockers in the NFL last year. Adding Kalil to the mix not only solidifies the ultra-important left tackle position, it simultaneously fills what is, as of this moment, a glaring hole at left guard. Johnson is much more capable of filling that position, so adding Kalil would fix two problems with one player.
 
My final point on why Kalil should be the pick: If the Vikings don't get Kalil, there won't be any legitimate, start-from-day-one caliber offensive tackles available to them in the second round. Most would agree there indeed will be wide receivers and/or cornerbacks capable of starting immediately with that early second-rounder. Put another way, the opportunity cost of passing on Kalil is significantly greater than the cost of passing on a corner or a wideout.
 
It's the rarest of rare circumstances; the best player available to the Vikings at No. 3 just so happens to play the position of greatest need for the team. Unless the Vikings scouts have seen weaknesses in Kalil's game that nobody else has, he's the pick at No. 3.
 
But the world now thinks otherwise, thanks to a brilliant job of subterfuge by Spielman and whoever it is within the Vikings brain trust that leaks information to certain media members. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN have had Kalil going to the Vikings at No. 3 since the draft order was established months ago... until today, when both of their most recently published mock drafts list Claiborne as the Vikings' pick. McShay and Kiper aren't alone, as numerous media outlets (including my esteemed VikesCentric colleague Bo Mitchell in his well-penned post about trading out of the No. 3 pick) have seemingly come to the conclusion that Spielman isn't bluffing, and that Claiborne will win out over Kalil if the team stands pat with the third pick.
 
What changed? Nothing, other than Spielman himself coming out last week and saying that the Vikings had equal grades on Kalil, Claiborne, and Blackmon. Then, on Tuesday, he announced that the Vikings are open to trading the No. 3 pick, and that he's already received several "nibbles" from other teams interested in trading up. After two carefully placed public proclamations by the man people should be least likely to believe, and probably in part due to the pressure on media members to provide new and interesting takes on information they've been regurgitating over and over again for weeks, we've all been convinced that Spielman doesn't want Kalil.
 
Which, of course, is the whole point of the smokescreen. Creating uncertainty about who the Vikings are targeting at No. 3, and convincing the world that they'd be perfectly content to trade down, is the only way of creating a market for the No. 3 pick. And the market is heating up. Already on Thursday morning, published reports have indicated both the Bucs (at No. 5) and the Bills (at No. 10) are seriously considering making a run at the Vikings' pick. Whether the Vikings pull the trigger or not, the interest in their pick - and the public's belief that they're not going to take the obvious player and instead would be content with any of several different players - can be traced back to Spielman and his deft pre-draft machinations.
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is also a contributing writer at Vikings.com and a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
Follow Christian on Twitter at @CP_Christianp.

VikesCentric: What's the greatest area of need?

Posted by: Updated: December 1, 2011 - 3:44 PM

 It’s a sad commentary that the Vikings will head into the offseason with so many glaring areas of need that it’s necessary to determine which of them is the greatest, but that’s the situation for this team. In no particular order, it’s not difficult to ascertain that the Vikes need serious help all over the secondary, on the offensive line, and at wide receiver. In my estimation, those are the three areas of greatest need. With what’s shaping up to be a top-5 (if not top-3) pick in next year’s draft, the Purple will be in a great spot to immediately address one of those three areas; let’s take an early peek at each and start to map out a plan for the offseason, which can’t come soon enough at this point.

Wide Receiver
With Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, the Vikings already possess two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL, but with Harvin best-suited for a multi-dimensional role out of the slot and occasionally the backfield and Peterson obviously being a running back, the team lacks a dynamic talent that can stretch defenses on the perimeter. The now-injured Michael Jenkins is not fast enough or talented enough to serve in that role. Devin Aromashodu has proven he’s not the answer, and nobody else on the current roster has any chance of becoming the answer. 
 
With a top-5 pick, the Vikings would probably be in position to grab the top-ranked college wideout – Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State. Graded by most draftnicks as a top-5, game-changing talent, Blackmon has been described as being better than Dez Bryant, his predecessor as the top dog wide receiver at Oklahoma State. But wide receivers are generally much easier to find late in the draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay gives first-round grades two three other wideouts, in fact, including former Cretin Derham Hall star Michael Floyd, who could conceivably still be available at the top of the second round. Furthermore, there are a number of intriguing wide receivers that could become free agents after this season. From a long list that includes Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Mario Manningham, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, the Vikings would be able to address this position via free agency if they so desire. Some of those names may re-sign before they ever hit free agency, but on first blush it appears plenty of wide receiver talent will be available on the open market.
 
Offensive Line
First, the bad news. Charlie Johnson is most definitely not the answer at left tackle. Steve Hutchinson is getting older and less effective right before our eyes, and while he’s still slightly better than average at his position, the Vikings won’t be getting full value if they opt to continue to pay him his $6.7 million salary in 2012. Overall, the Vikings line has been just short of disastrous this season. Football Outsiders ranks the Vikes 15th in run blocking and dead last in pass blocking. Pro Football Focus is more optimistic – ranking Minnesota’s offensive line the #1 line in all of football in the running game, but 24th in pass protection.
 
John Sullivan has developed into a very good center this season, but he’s set to be a free agent and could command a huge pay raise to keep him on board. Given the state of the rest of their line, I’d expect the Vikings to sign him to a long-term deal. Right guard is not a position of strength, but it could be worse. While giving Anthony Herrera a long-term contract extension has proven to be the wrong move, veteran Joe Berger has proven surprisingly effective as his backup this season. It wouldn’t be a total disaster to bring both players back next year.  At right tackle, Phil Loadholt has shown talent at times, but remains maddeningly inconsistent. If you assume the team re-signs Sullivan and that Loadholt, who’s still young and promising, is safe at right tackle, it’s possible the team could have three new starters along the line.
 
If the Vikes land a top-2 draft pick, they’d be foolish not to take USC tackle Matt Kalil. He’s head-and-shoulders above any other offensive lineman in the draft and could step in at left tackle immediately. And since it’s very difficult to address that position in free agency (the best left tackles are so valuable they are almost always locked up with lucrative deals by whatever team drafted them), grabbing an anchor for Christian Ponder’s blind side for the next 8-10 years makes all the sense in the world. But if they’re not in the top-2, it’s not so clear cut. The other top-rated offensive linemen are Jonathan Martin of Stanford and Riley Reiff of Iowa, neither of whom project as stars. If Kalil is off the board, it may not be worth reaching for Martin or Reiff.
 
In the end, you can get by for another year with Hutchinson, Sullivan (if he re-signs), Herrera/Berger, and Loadholt, assuming you do something to upgrade at left tackle. It’s not a perfect situation by any means, but it’s not a total trainwreck either.
 
The Secondary
In my mind, this is the greatest area of need. Wide receiver can be addressed in other ways – either later in the draft or in free agency. The offensive line is a weak spot, but it’s not as if Ponder is being pummeled on every single play, and if indeed the team does bring back four of the five players along that line, consistency and familiarity is a huge aspect of good line play. But the secondary is a total and complete disaster from top to bottom.
 
The Vikes can’t possibly be depending on Chris Cook, who showed glimpses of promise prior to his off-the-field incident that has de-railed his entire career. Even if he stays off the police blotter, there’s no guarantee that he’ll turn into a consistent NFL performer. Antoine Winfield simply can’t be counted on to stay healthy any longer. He’s due $7 million in 2012, which is an awfully steep price to pay for five or six games. It’s possible they could move him to safety, but it’s also possible the Vikes will decide $7 million is too much to pay for him. Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen are both awful, and shouldn’t be retained. Neither is capable of being a starter in the NFL. At safety, I’m told the team likes Husain Abdullah. While I personally don’t see it, he’s probably still locked in as a starter in 2012, assuming Minnesota signs him (he played 2011 on a one-year, $1.8 million deal). Assuming Abdullah returns, that leaves gaping holes at three of the four secondary positions, and absolutely no depth whatsoever. 
 
Using the draft to eliminate one of the three open spots would be a wise move. While using a top-5 pick on a defensive back might seem high, most of the best corner backs in the NFL today were high draft picks. Among them are Darrelle Revis (14th overall in 2007), Nnamdi Asomugha (31st pick in 2003), Carlos Rogers (9th overall in 2005), Johnathan Joseph (24th pick in 2006), and Joe Haden (7th pick in 2010), while others like Champ Bailey (7th overall in 1999) and Charles Woodson (4th selection in 1998) have proven that elite, shutdown corners can also have long and productive careers. 
 
As luck would have it, the top of this year’s draft appears to be well-stocked with elite-level corner backs. At the top of most lists is LSU corner Morris Claiborne, ranked as high as the third-best player in the entire draft (by ESPN’s Todd McShay – ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranks Claiborne fifth). Others include Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard.
 
Given that the team must replace as many as four starters in their secondary (three if you assume Abdullah returns, two if you have the misguided belief that either Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield can stay on the field for any length of time), it’s the greatest area of need going into 2012 unless something unforeseen happens over the final five games of this season. 
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: Greg Jennings cannot be stopped

Posted by: Updated: November 10, 2011 - 8:49 PM
In his last three games against the Vikings, Aaron Rodgers has completed 71 percent of his passes for an average of 310 yards per game. He's tossed nine touchdown passes and thrown just two interceptions.
 
This isn't that surprising considering Rodgers is currently on pace for one of the greatest statistical seasons of all time.
 
It's also not surprising that Greg Jennings - Rodgers' obvious No. 1 receiver - has done a lot of the damage during the same three-game span. In those three games, Jennings has hauled in 20 receptions for a total of 373 yards and five touchdowns. Rodgers has connected on 69 percent of the 29 passes thrown Jennings' way. To put that in a little bit of perspective, all the other Packers wideouts combined have only caught 28 balls for 362 yards and one touchdown in the last three matchups.
 
Put a different way, Rodgers has averaged 8.4 yards per attempt when throwing to wideouts not named Greg Jennings. He's averaged 12.9 yards per attempt when tossing it to No. 85.
 
All of which begs the question; why not game plan specifically to stop Jennings? Sure, the Packers boast arguably the most talented and deep corps of wide receivers in the NFL. No. 2 wideout Jordy Nelson has scored five touchdowns and averages 19.7 yards per catch (the 4th-highest average in the league). James Jones has scored touchdowns in four of his last five games. Jermichael Finley is one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the business.Yet the Vikes have proven over the recent three-game stretch of Green-and-Gold dominance that they can stop the secondary receivers... or at least slow them down.
 
But they can't stop Jennings, and I'm not sure they've made much of an effort to alter their game plan to do so. For every pass attempt on which a wideout is the intended receiver, Pro Football Focus tracks which defender was in coverage. Their detailed game-charting data reveals a somewhat disturbing trend; the Vikings have seemingly ignored the fact that Jennings is the man to stop.
 
The data is somewhat skewed by the 33-27 loss a few weeks ago, when the Vikings' top two cornerbacks were either injured or in jail. Chris Cook had been doing an admirable job of shadowing top opposing wide receivers like Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson earlier this year, and may have been employed in a similar manner against Jennings in Week 7 had he been available. Without Cook or their top cover corner, Antoine Winfield, the Vikings had no chance to stop Jennings or anyone else (and they didn't, as you probably noticed when Jennings literally walked into the end zone at the end of a 79-yard touchdown strike on which he simply wasn't covered). 
 
But in the two losses last year, in which Jennings had 13 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns, a healthy Winfield was rarely matched up with Jennings. In fact, he was listed as the defensive back in coverage on passes thrown towards Jennings just three times. He caught one of those passes for 15 yards. Against all other Vikings defenders in those two games, Jennings and Rodgers connected 12 out of 16 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns. 
 
One thing we know the Vikes can't (or shouldn't) do is put Asher Allen on an island against the Packers No. 1 wideout. In the last three Vikings-Packers games, Allen was the player in coverage on eight of the passes that were targeted for Jennings, who caught six of them for 102 yards and three touchdowns. And that (correctly) doesn't include the aforementioned 79-yard touchdown when Husain Abdullah blew his assignment after Allen let Jennings go down the right sideline.
 
Cook is out again this week, but Winfield is expected back after a four-game absence due to a neck injury. For reasons I don't pretend to know or understand, the Vikings don't typically use Winfield to shadow any one player. Other elite cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson, and Champ Bailey are frequently used in this way, but perhaps Winfield is only comfortable on one side of the field. Or perhaps the Vikings feel he's better utilized inside against slot receivers on obvious passing downs, which is how they've been using him for the past couple of years. 
 
There's no guarantee that Winfield would be able to completely shut down Jennings, Revis Island style, nor that Rodgers wouldn't simply throw for 300 yards to some combination of Nelson, Jones, Finley, Donald Driver, or Randall Cobb if Jennings had been sucdessfully eliminated by Winfield. But given how badly the Vikes have been burned by Jennings in the recent past, isn't it at least worth experimenting with the idea of having Winfield shadow Jennings all over the field? Wouldn't it make sense to at least attempt to take away Rodgers' best and most explosive weapon and force him to beat you with less talented players?
 
At the very least, it's worth keeping a close eye on Jennings on Monday night. Will the Packers move him around or stick him on the right side, where he tends to play most of his snaps? When the Packers go to three- and four-wide offensive sets, where does Winfield line up? Will he stay on the outside receiver, or will the Vikings continue to move him inside? And if you see No. 85 in Green and Gold matched up one-on-one against No. 21 in purple (Allen), be afraid. Be very afraid.
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is a contributor to Vikings.com and is a co-host on the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: The woeful secondary

Posted by: Updated: October 25, 2011 - 3:40 PM

There is absolutely no guarantee that Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield would have made a lick of difference against the shockingly efficient Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the absence of the Vikings’ top two defensive backs exposed just how painfully weak the Vikings’ secondary really is.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin is a mere shell of the player he was prior to blowing out his knee (the first time) in the 2009 NFC Championship game. He’s lost at least one step per ACL surgery (two in total), appears to be completely devoid of confidence, and should no longer be considered a starting-caliber player. Problem is, the Vikings don’t have anybody better.

I can’t think of (or find evidence of) anything that Asher Allen does that’s better than your average street free agent. Safety Husain Abdullah has been the culprit on two separate back-breaking touchdown bombs in the last two weeks alone. The other Week 7 starting safety, Tyrell Johnson, was, until Sunday, playing behind a former seventh-round draft pick who isn’t very good either (Jamarca Sanford).

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the porous secondary is that the Vikings have attempted to address the situation via the NFL Draft repeatedly. They just haven’t done a very good job.

Dating back to 2006 (Griffin in Round 2), the Vikings have burned five picks within the first three rounds on defensive backs.

Tough to blame anything but bad luck on Griffin, who was developing into both a sound tackler and an excellent cover corner just before the fateful overtime kickoff in the 2009 title game on which he blew out his knee for the first time.

But after that, it gets ugly. Third-rounder Marcus McCauley (2007) started nine games in his rookie season before being benched and then released after the 2008 season, then playing in one game for the Lions in 2009 before his brief career came to a merciful end.

In 2008, Tyrell Johnson was chosen in Round 2. Johnson started seven games in his rookie season and 15 games in 2009 before being benched in favor of mega-bust Madieu Williams and the undrafted Abdullah in 2010 and losing a training camp battle to Sanford this year. For the record, Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades Abdullah as the 74th-“best” safety in the NFL (out of 90 that have earned a grade by PFF’s game charters) this year in terms of pass coverage. Sanford (82nd) and Johnson (85th) are even worse.

Allen, a third-rounder in 2009, was burned repeatedly when forced into action in the place of an incarcerated Cook on Sunday. According to PFF, Rodgers threw Allen’s way 10 times, completing nine of them for 108 yards. Of the 98 cornerbacks that have been ranked by PFF this season, only five have graded out worse than Allen in pass coverage.

Which brings us to Cook, the 2010 second-rounder (after trading out of Round 1) who has garnered attention far more for his off-the-field antics than anything he’s done on it. In fairness to Cook, he’s actually been playing very well this season. He’s been used to shadow elite receivers from Vincent Jackson to Calvin Johnson and held up remarkably well. According to Pro Football Focus, Cook has allowed 60% of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, but he’s done a very good job limiting the damage to just 187 total yards and one touchdown in just over four games.

Then again, judging character is just as important as judging skill, and the early returns indicate that the team may not be able to depend on Cook, no matter how well he plays when he's in uniform, in the short or long-term.

The absence of Winfield really can’t be overstated here. He’s been PFF’s No. 1-ranked cornerback twice in the last four years (and hasn’t dropped out of the top 12 in the same span), and despite getting older and becoming increasingly injury-prone, the secondary is completely different when he’s not on the field.

With a healthy Winfield and an unjailed Cook, things wouldn’t look quite so dire, but the safety situation is nothing short of disastrous, and both the unbearable lack of talent at safety and the lack of depth at cornerback is directly traceable to the inability of the front office to land NFL-caliber starters in the draft, despite using high picks in an attempt to do so.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com, the 2011 Maple Street Press Vikings Annual, and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

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