VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Percy Harvin

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

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: Patrick Donnelly 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.

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