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 Percy Harvin

VikesCentric: Looking at the NFL's worst vertical passing attack

Posted by: Updated: December 1, 2012 - 11:59 AM

Every Vikings fan knows that our passing attack is far, far removed from the "Three Deep" days. It's a rare Sunday that we see Christian Ponder unleashing the type of long pass that makes you shift to the edge of your seat in anticipation of a big gain.

We could argue in circles about the reasons behind the lack of explosive plays in the Vikings passing attack - Ponder's downfield inaccuracy vs. a lack of speedy receivers vs. a lack of receivers who can't catch vs. Bill Musgrave's playbook, which seems to include only one or two routes that go beyond 15 yards. It's a combination of all of the above, which have led to these number: 9.6 and 20.

The Vikings are averaging an NFL-low 9.59 yards per reception.

Who is ranked 31st? The Arizona Cardinals sit at 10.54. Yes, an offense that has seen their quarterback carousel turn to Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley manages nearly one full yard per catch more than the Vikings.

The Vikings have completed an NFL-low 20 completions of 20-plus yards.

The Bears (27) and Chiefs (27) are tied for 30th, and it would take a miracle for the Purple to catch them at this point. The 2009 Browns (25) were the last team to finish a full season with fewer than 30 completions of 20-plus yards.

When we stack that 9.6 yards-per-reception average against recent history, we find only four teams who've been more pathetic in the past decade - the 2009 St. Louis Rams (9.5), the 2008 Cincinnati Bengals (8.8), the 2006 Houston Texans (9.2), and the 2003 Detroit Lions (9.4). Let's look briefly look back at those four offenses, where they were, and how they reacted:

The 2003 Lions were led by second-year quarterback Joey Harrington, whose top pass-catchers were running back Shawn Bryson, slot man Az-Zahir Hakim, tight end Mikhael Ricks, and fullback Cory Schlesinger. They were hurt by another Charles Rogers injury (five games played) and a steep fade in production by Bill Schroeder. With the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Lions selected Texas wide receiver Roy Williams. They also added speedy running back Kevin Jones with the 30th overall pick and signed wide receiver Tai Streets.

The 2006 Texans featured fifth-year starter David Carr, who completed 103 passes to Andre Johnson and 57 passes to aged veteran Eric Moulds. Rookie tight end Owen Daniels (34 catches) was a minor factor, as was Kevin Walter (17 catches). In the 2007 offseason, the Texans ditched Carr and Moulds, made a huge trade with the Falcons to land Matt Schaub, signed speedster Andre Davis, and drafted deep threat Jacoby Jones in the third round.

The 2008 Bengals lost Carson Palmer to an elbow injury after four games and turned the keys over to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was a relatively untested commodity at the time. Chad Johnson punctuated a terrible offseason by changing his last name in August, pouting, playing terribly, and finishing with 53 receptions for 540 yards over 13 games. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught 92 passes but traveled a mere 904 yards. The Bengals had already prepared for the future by selecting Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell in the 2008 draft, but in the 2009 offseason, they also ditched Housh in favor of Laveranues Coles while praying for Palmer's elbow to heal.

The 2009 Rams opened the season with Marc Bulger under center and eventually also used Kyle Boller (four starts) and Keith Null (four starts). Steven Jackson (51) led the team in receptions, followed by raw speedster Donnie Avery (47), rookie Danny Amendola (43), rookie Brandon Gibson (34), and Randy McMichael (34). With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Rams took quarterback Sam Bradford. They also traded for Mark Clayton and Laurent Robinson, selected three pass-catchers in the later rounds of the draft, and gave a shot to undrafted rookie Danario Alexander.

So, what's the lesson here? The Vikings aren't going to cure their lack of a vertical passing game over this final month, but fans can expect Rick Spielman to look far and wide for speedy and big-bodied additions to join Ponder, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph in the passing attack. We can anticipate waving goodbye to Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Devin Aromashodu next offseason, and none of us should shed too many tears.

Some fans are already obsessed with the thought of going over Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, or Dwayne Bowe. I'll leave that discussion for this upcoming offseason, but while we're all dreaming about upgrading this passing attack, it's time to get acquainted with  youngsters the Vikings may be looking at with their first-round pick (currently No. 20).

Currently, there's not a clear-cut, top-10 wide receiver in the 2013 draft class. The college player who best fits that profile - USC's Marquise Lee - is only a sophomore. But the Vikings could be in position to go after Keenan Allen (Cal), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Robert Woods (USC), or DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Tavon Austin (West Virginia) is also in the first-round discussion, but the 5-9, 175-pound speedster isn't the ideal option for a team with Harvin and Jarius Wright.

Rather than ruin my holidays by praying for Simpson to turn into the threat we all hoped he would be, I plan to spend my December dreaming about who might help out this passing attack next year. I suggest my fellow Vikings fans do the same because our current lot of wideouts are what they are and complaining about them will just lead to high blood pressure.

VikesCentric: A must-win game in Chicago

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 24, 2012 - 4:55 PM

I generally despise the term "must-win" game.

 
Shouldn't they all be must-wins? I mean, by its very definition, a must-win game implies that some games really don't matter. I suppose that's the case for teams that are out of playoff contention, but in reality all games should be considered must wins as long as a team is mathematically alive for the postseason. After that, some would argue, games can become "must lose" in order to ensure a higher draft pick.
 
Now that we've got that somewhat cleared up… Sunday's game in Chicago feels like it should be considered of the must-win ilk for the Minnesota Vikings. This assumes, of course, that you are in the camp that believes it is in the Vikings' best interest to continue winning games in pursuit of a postseason berth.
 
A cogent argument could be made that the Vikings don't have the horses to go very far – or even advance past the first round – if they do somehow make the playoffs, and therefore losing games down the stretch and missing the postseason wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That argument presupposes the Vikings are in full-scale rebuilding mode and could benefit more by higher draft picks than a few extra wins during a rebuilding campaign.
 
Of course, that line of thinking won't get you very far within the halls at Winter Park. For as much as they are refurbishing following last season's 3-13 disaster, the Vikings roster is dotted with high-profile veterans that want to win now. For players like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams time is of the essence. A football player only has so many years to pursue a ring.
 
Thus, the Vikings really, really need to beat the Bears on Sunday.
 
The Vikings remaining schedule – as everyone knows – is pretty dicey, and they need to win four of the final six to have a reasonable shot of making it to the playoffs. Ten wins probably gets them in. Nine probably won't cut it. Next week's game against the Packers in Green Bay does not look very winnable for the Purple. The Packers have won the last four games in the series and have won five of the last six games between these two teams at Lambeau Field. And the Week 16 game in Houston appears even less winnable for the Vikings against a 10-1 Texans squad that appears to be one of the four best teams in the league.
 
In other words, that leaves no room for error in the other four games for Minnesota – two against the Bears, a Week 15 game in St. Louis, and the regular-season finale at home against the Packers.
 
You want to see the Vikings in the playoffs this season? Then they need to win Sunday in Chicago. Period.
 
Fortunately for the Vikes, they have a lot of factors aligning perfectly to give them a shot at upsetting the favored Bears – aside from Percy Harvin's tri-lateral ankle sprain that has yet to fully heal.
 
Not that the Vikings needed a blueprint for beating Chicago, given their familiarity with their division rival, but Monday's lopsided loss by the Bears to the 49ers provided a very detailed roadmap. Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense needs to somehow avoid turning the ball over to the hyper-opportunistic Bears defense and Allen and company need to pin their ears back and pressure the heck out of the quarterback.
 
Said quarterback will likely be Jay Cutler, who appears on course to return from his concussion, but whether it's Cutler or Jason Campbell, the Vikings have a golden opportunity to really get after him. The Bears offensive line is in complete shambles after being exposed for six sacks by the 49ers. Chilo Rachal was demoted from his starting left guard position following the game and promptly left the team. Meanwhile, starting right tackle Gabe Carimi was also benched after the Niners game. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb hasn't been much better, but remains in the starting lineup to take on Allen – who logged 3.5 sacks against him when these teams met last year in Week 17.
 
On paper at least, Allen and Brian Robison should have a field day. On paper, Adrian Peterson should be able to continue his dominance because, well, no one has stopped him yet this season. The Bears run defense is stout, but Peterson is playing the best football of his Hall of Fame career right now. On paper, the well-rested Vikings, who don't have many injury concerns beyond Harvin, have the advantage over the Bears who are on a short week after getting mauled on Monday night.
 
On paper, the Vikings have a really good shot of beating Chicago. And on paper, they really need to do so if they want to remain a relevant playoff contender.
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Giving thanks to the Purple

Posted by: Updated: November 20, 2012 - 12:08 PM

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?

Ted is a content strategy manager for TST Media and contributor to LeagueSafe Post.  You can follow Ted on Twitter at @tcarlson34.

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: 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: Why has the defense been so much better?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 9, 2012 - 1:38 PM

Just by watching the Vikings play this season you can see that their defense is executing better. The improvement has been apparent both on the field and on the scoreboard. Undoubtedly, Christian Ponder's game management, Percy Harvin's game-changing plays, and Blair Walsh's leg have all been major contributors to their 4-1 start. But more than any other factor, their strong defense has been responsible for their first-place standing.

 
Putting your finger on exactly why the Vikings are playing better defensively is harder to do. They aren't pressuring the quarterback quite as well as they did last season when they tied for the NFL lead in sacks and Jared Allen threatened the single-season sack record. They aren't returning turnovers for touchdowns a la the Chicago Bears, with whom they share the top spot in the NFC North. They are permitting opponents to convert on third downs at a 44.2 percent rate – the exact same rate at last season, ranking among the bottom third of defenses in that department.
 
Even so, they are definitely playing better. As head coach Leslie Frazier put it Monday during his press conference, "They’re playing with great energy, you can see the guys are playing with confidence, they’re in the spots they should be, and when they’re in those spots they’re able to make some plays for us."
 
In other words, they're not making highlight-reel plays, but they're doing what they are supposed to do. They are in their spots and making plays when they need to do so. They are executing. That alone is a significant step in the right direction.
 
Exactly how much better have the Vikings played through five games? It's admittedly a small sample size, but the first five games of this season compare quite favorably to 2011 across the board. The noted pigskin mavens at ProFootballFocus.com rank the Vikings as having the third-best defense in the NFL thus far this season, compared to 14th overall last year.
 
Here are a number of more specific areas that might make their improvement easier to understand:
 
Vikings defensive comparison
2011
NFL Rank
2012
NFL Rank
Points allowed per game
28.1
31
15.8
6
Yards allowed per game
358.2
21
304.2
7
Pass yards allowed per game
251.2
26
225.6
14
Rush yards allowed per game
107
11
78.6
6
QB rating allowed
107.6
32
84.6
12
Completion % allowed
68.2
31
61.8
14
Yards per rushing attempt
3.9
6
3.2
2
Passes defended
50
31
32
3
 
As you can see from the table above, they remain rock solid against the run, truly one of the five or 10-best run defenses in the league. They have not allowed any run longer than 15 yards this season. No other team in the league can make such a claim. However, their improvement against the pass (so far) has been the biggest differentiator. Look at the QB rating allowed stat. In 2011, their 107.6 mark was the second-highest allowed in the history of the NFL. It was like facing Tom Brady (105.6 rating in 2011) or Drew Brees (110.6) every week. They've got that number down into the realm of mere mortal quarterbacks this season – and in a passing league, that's pretty important.
 
Chad Greenway is playing like a Pro Bowler and ranks second in the NFL with 53 tackles thus far. If I had to pick a Vikings defensive MVP through five games, he'd be my choice. However, fellow veterans Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield are looking more and more like they did three years ago. That definitely helps. As does the emergence of Jasper Brinkley at linebacker and the improved play of the secondary.
 
Oh the secondary -- so horrible last season and so pleasantly surprising this season! The stats tell the story. But the story has its new characters. Aside from foolishly putting his hands on an official this past Sunday and earning an ejection, rookie safety Harrison Smith has provided the secondary something it's lacked in, well, an awful long time: a hard-hitting intimidator. It also helps, as Frazier alluded to, he's been in the right place at the right time and he's making plays -- as evidenced by his six passes defensed. The same should be said for fellow rookie, cornerback Josh Robinson. He's probably been the most pleasant surprise. We knew he could run. We knew he had ball skills. His tackling has really stood out, though.
 
And maybe it's as simple as that. Be where you are supposed to be and tackle. The Vikings have done that so far this season, with rare exception.
 
 
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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