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 Leslie Frazier

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: Looking for progress, not playoffs

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 13, 2012 - 10:30 AM

I suspect a small percentage of the more unreasonable Vikings fans eagerly lap up the team's company line about 2012 not being a rebuilding season. Reasonable fans, who comprise the vast majority of the jaded Vikings nation, know better. One year after going 3-13 is not the time to be thinking playoffs – even in today's "worst-to-first" NFL.

 
Sure, the last nine seasons have produced at least one first-place team that finished last in its division the year before. In 2011, six teams made the playoffs that were not in the postseason in 2010. In fact, the last 16 straight seasons have produced at least five such teams that have gone from non-playoff to playoff teams in the next year.
 
So go ahead, Vikings fans, dare to dream.
 
It's a nice goal to have for those imbibing heavily on the Purple Kool Aid. But even if the Vikings go to Indianapolis on Sunday and defeat the Colts, it's an unrealistic no matter what Leslie Frazier or any of the players might say.
 
"Progress, not perfection" is a saying my wife uses frequently, and the idea fits the Vikings' situation. Only it might be better stated as "Progress, not playoffs." For progress is the real goal of the Vikings this season; and let's be honest, there's not much room for regression after last season.
 
We saw some definite signs of progress in Week 1, but the Jaguars are a team the Vikings had to beat at home. You don't lose a game like that – as the Vikings came about 20 seconds away from doing – and expect to make a serious run at the postseason. Similarly, this Sunday's game in Indianapolis is of the "must win" variety whether you envision a Vikings postseason game this season or are willing to settle for progress.
 
While Sunday's game against Andrew Luck and the Colts feels like a game the Vikings really should win if they want anyone to take them seriously, it's far from a slam dunk. The Colts have won their last two home games – in Weeks 15 and 16 last year. And remember, that team didn't have Luck under center. Moreover, the Vikings have never beaten the Colts on the road. Yes, you read that correctly. The Vikings are 0-10 in franchise history outside of the state of Minnesota against the Colts (0-2 in Indianapolis and 0-8 in Baltimore).
 
No, a win on Sunday in Indy cannot be taken for granted. The Vikings have not been particularly good on the road for the past decade. As this SportsData infographic shows, 21 teams have won more road games than the Vikings over the last 10 seasons. Thus, be satisfied if the Vikings pull one out against the Colts on Sunday. Road wins, even against a team like the Colts, have not been easy for the Vikings to come by.
 
But that's all it will be: one win in September against a team that they should beat. The schedule gets much tougher after this Sunday for the Vikings, starting with next week's game against the 49ers – a game that could feature two first-place teams.
 
Think about that for a second: a very real scenario exists in which the Vikings are in first place by 11 p.m. on Sunday.
 
All it would take is a Packers win over the Bears tonight (which seems like a pretty safe bet) coupled with the 49ers beating the Lions in San Francisco Sunday night (which seems quite certain) and the Vikings beating a team that has won just two of their last 17 games.
 
Don't get out over your skies, purple faithful. Even if they are a first-place team after two games, Vikings fans should be content with progress rather than playoffs in 2012.
 
Beat the Colts and then beat the Niners… then we'll talk about playoffs.
 
 
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: Jumping to conclusions

Posted by: Updated: September 10, 2012 - 3:30 PM

It’s just one week, but everyone still wants to jump to conclusions about, well, just about everything we saw during the Vikings’ scintillating Week 1 win over the Jaguars. Let’s run down a handful of conclusions one might reach after Sunday, and discuss whether they’re more trend or mirage.

Blair Walsh has ice water in his veins.

Or “intestinal fortitude,” as head coach Leslie Frazier told the media after the game. For a 22-year-old rookie kicking in his first career game, Walsh could not have been more clutch. He calmly knocked down the 55-yarder to force overtime like it was just another routine extra point, then booted the 38-yarder in overtime for the (eventual) win.

Verdict: Trend. Walsh destroyed all doubts about whether the Vikings “wasted” a sixth-round pick on him, and vindicated General Manager Rick Spielman, who put his faith in Walsh by cutting expensive veteran Ryan Longwell in the offseason. We knew Walsh had a big leg, but after his clutch performance on Sunday it appears he’s got the guts to go along with it.
 
Adrian Peterson is not human.
 
Without playing a single preseason snap and a mere eight months removed from a knee injury that usually takes at least a year or more to completely heal from, Peterson didn’t miss a beat. After looking a bit tentative early in the game, Peterson settled down after scoring his first touchdown before looking like vintage AP on a couple of long runs (of ten and 20 yards) in overtime.
 
Verdict: Trend. He’s superman. Nobody will ever underestimate him again.
 
The secondary still stinks.
 
Sophomore Blaine Gabbert completed only 51 percent of his passes as a rookie and threw for almost as many interceptions (11) as he did touchdowns (12). On Sunday, what was supposed to be an improved Vikings secondary let him complete 23-of-39 (59 percent) for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Verdict: Trend. Here we go again. Despite the return of cornerbacks Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield and the infusion of some young talent (safety Harrison Smith and nickel corner Josh Robinson), the Vikings had few answers for what was one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL a year ago. They managed to hold highly touted rookie wideout Justin Blackmon in check, but there were frequent breakdowns that led on numerous times to wide open receivers converting big plays for the Jaguars. Winfield has lost at least a step, Cook looked rusty, and the safety tandem of Smith and Mistral Raymond was far too inconsistent. In particular, on the fateful last-minute touchdown catch by the Jaguars’ Cecil Shorts, Raymond barely moved from where he had lined up. He was inexplicably frozen right after the snap, appearing, for some reason, to be shadowing Gabbert in the pocket while one receiver ran right past him and leaving Cook on an island against Shorts. How do you not ensure that there’s adequate coverage deep on that play?
 
Christian Ponder has arrived.
 
Ponder got off to a rocky start, but he engineered five scoring drives after halftime, including the game-tying one with 20 seconds on the clock and a methodical overtime drive. Most importantly, he didn’t commit a turnover.
 
Verdict: Mirage. Outside of Peterson looking healthy, Ponder was easily the most promising takeaway from this game. He completed nearly 75 percent of his passes and got in a groove once he got Percy Harvin involved. Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph are starting to emerge as legitimate go-to guys for Ponder, and if Peterson is this effective in the running game Ponder should continue to have opportunities to grow. But let’s not confuse a home opener against a bad Jaguars defense that was missing its’ top cornerback for the Bears or Packers on the road in late November. Sunday was a positive step in nearly every way for Ponder, but there will be more bumps in the road.
 
The play calling remains dubious.
 
The Vikings gained a total of two first downs on their first four drives of the game, all of which resulted in punts. Other than a reverse to Percy Harvin on the third play of the game, Harvin was completely invisible in the offense until the fifth drive. Later, they stalled out several times inside the red zone and had to settle for field goals when a touchdown would have put the game out of reach.
 
Verdict: Trend. The entire offense looked out of sync early on. Perhaps it was because nobody knew what to expect while breaking Peterson in, or perhaps the team was just sluggish coming off an equally sluggish preseason. Whatever the case, there shouldn’t be any excuse for excluding Harvin from the game plan for almost an entire half. Things finally got moving on the fifth drive, when Ponder threw it to Harvin three straight times to open a drive that began with just over two minutes left in the half. That ultimately resulted in the first of Peterson’s two touchdowns, and things were generally much improved for the remainder of the game. But why did it take nearly an entire half to get the ball into Harvin’s hands? Later, a nice Ponder-to-Rudolph connection gave the Vikings a first-and-goal from the three-yard line. Instead of just jamming Peterson down the Jaguars’ throats for a third time, the Vikings got cute; first running Harvin straight up the gut out of the backfield, then throwing a pass to third-string running back Matt Asiata before a broken play resulted in an incomplete pass to little-used tight end John Carlson on third down. Matt Asiata? Really? By not punching the ball into the end zone after three straight bizarre play calls, the Vikes left the door open for the late Jaguars’ comeback. The Vikings game plan should be pretty obvious and simple: Get the ball to Peterson and Harvin. End of story. Bill Musgrave seems to be doing a decent job with Christian Ponder’s development, but there continue to be a handful of head-scratching moments in just about every game.
 
Jared Allen was invisible.
 
Other than a sack on the second Jaguars offensive play that was reversed because of a questionable offside call on Allen himself, we saw little from last year’s NFL sacks leader. He was essentially stifled by Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe, and the Vikings inability to generate a pass rush was part of the reason Gabbert was able to dissect the secondary.
 
Verdict: Mirage. It was uncharacteristic and disappointing that he didn’t show up at home in the season opener – he failed to register a sack in just three games all of last year – but Allen will get his. Call it an off day and expect to see him terrorize Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck next week. If Allen and Brian Robison can generate a better pass rush next week and beyond, it will make the inexperienced secondary look a lot better.
 
Winning cures all ills.
 
It was ugly at times and you’d expect the Vikings to win a home game against one of last year’s worst AFC teams, but a win is a win is a win.
 
Verdict: TBD. The Vikings will take wins any way they can. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, they’re not in a position to be worried about who they beat or how pretty or ugly it is. Take last year, for example, when they easily could have been 3-0 after the first three games but turned that into 0-3 with a series of incredible second-half collapses. If the team wins a couple of those games early last season, there’s a school of thought that says the remainder of the year could have been totally different. One thing is very clear: if they’d lost on Sunday in the waning moments on a Blaine Gabbert-to-Cecil Shorts miracle, it could have sent them spiraling the wrong way before the season was even two weeks old. The impressive comeback should do wonders for this team’s confidence, and with an early-season schedule that’s littered with winnable games (Colts, Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Bucs all within the next seven weeks), that confidence could lead to some more W’s.

Christian Peterson is the Director of Operations at LeagueSafe.com and Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post. He has been a contributor to Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on FM 100.3 KFAN on Saturday mornings during the football season. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

VikesCentric: More rehearsal needed

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 24, 2012 - 10:49 PM

In NFL circles, the third preseason game is cleverly referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Teams use the third game to hone their timing for Week 1 by playing their starting units longer than in any of the other exhibition contests before resting the regulars in the fourth game in an effort to preserve their health. Suffice it to say Friday night's dress rehearsal didn't exactly go as planned for your Minnesota Vikings.

 
Yes, the Chargers needed a walk-off field goal to win the game 12-10. But anyone who witnessed what took place at Mall of America Field knows this was not at all what Leslie Frazier had in mind.
 
Before delving head-first into the negativity, know that I looked really hard to find a silver lining in Friday's messy showing. Believe me, I did. And the best I could come up with was that a fan won a trip to Cancun during a first-half promotion down on the field. Seriously, that's the best I could do.
 
The Vikings defense held the Chargers to 202 total yards and no touchdowns. Normally that would be impressive, but the Bolts didn't get the memo on the whole "dress rehearsal" deal. San Diego de-activated 18 players, including three-fifths of their injured offensive line starters, injured starting running back Ryan Mathews, as well as completely healthy quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.
 
Holding Charlie Whitehurst in check just isn't the same as flummoxing Rivers.
 
The Vikings' first-team offense was utterly listless, as Christian Ponder led the starters to three points even though they played deep into the third quarter.
 
The closest thing to a first-team offensive highlight came about midway through the second quarter when Christian Ponder finally hooked up with Percy Harvin downfield after a few earlier missed connections. The 40-yard, over-the-shoulder grab was a thing of beauty… but was quickly followed three plays later by a Chargers interception with 8:32 remaining in the first half. The pick was ruled a drop at first, but the fill-in referees overturned the call while Vikings fans amused themselves by doing the wave and paying no discernible attention to the game. If this had been a regular season game, the reversal would have been the fans' cue to boo lustily and berate the refs even though it was the right call.
 
Yeah, it was a bad dress rehearsal for the fans too.
 
It was kind of hard to blame them, given what they were watching. However, I have no excuses for the woman who quite literally failed the dress rehearsal by wearing a No. 85 Jim Kleinsasser jersey. I had to double-check the media guide to be sure, but Jimmy never wore any number other than 40 with the Vikes. Sigh.
 
Other sad trombone performances included first-round draft pick Matt Kalil looking like a rookie for the first time this preseason. Chargers pass-rushers seemed to give him consistent trouble and the big left tackle was beaten in the first quarter for a sack by Chargers linebacker Larry English – that's third-string linebacker Larry English if you are following along on your Chargers depth chart.
 
Backup running back Matt Asiata made the strongest bid at being my Vikings silver-lining player, rushing for 48 yards on nine carries and scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes left, but the silver was tarnished somewhat by the third-quarter fumble he lost at the Chargers' four-yard line. Fellow running backs Lex Hillard and Derrick Coleman also coughed up fumbles.
 
In all the Vikings turned the ball over four times, punted five times, allowed five sacks and were flagged six times for 81 yards.
 
It was more mess rehearsal than dress rehearsal.
 
One week after selling a heaping helping of hope to their fans with a 36-14 shellacking of the Bills it seems the Vikes have a lot more rehearsing to do between now and the start of the real games. It's enough to make you wonder whether they might call an audible and give their starters a little extra run next Thursday in their preseason finale against Houston.
 
 
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: The Blair Walsh Project

Posted by: Updated: August 17, 2012 - 11:45 PM

The development of Blair Walsh is one of the most closely monitored storylines of the Vikings' 2012 preseason. And if not for the magical night of Audie Cole, he probably would have been the story of the game on Friday after the Purple took down the Buffalo Bills 36-14.

The Vikings used a sixth-round draft pick in April to secure the services of the former Georgia Bulldog – the first time they've drafted a kicker since they selected the immortal Mike Wood in the eighth round of the 1978 draft. They quickly released stalwart Ryan Longwell, essentially handing the job to the unproven Walsh.

Quick aside: I have a friend who lives in Atlanta and follows the SEC closely. When I saw him last weekend, he said, "I can't (redacted) believe the Vikings drafted that Walsh kid from Georgia!"

My friend's skepticism is warranted. Last season, Walsh converted on just 21 of 35 field goals, including a dismal 5-for-12 effort from 40-to-49 yards. However, Walsh hit on 40 of 45 attempts as a sophomore and junior, and the Vikings thought they saw a flaw in his mechanics during his senior season, a flaw they were convinced they could fix.

Two (preseason) games into Walsh's professional career, the Vikings' hunch appears to be paying off. Last week, he went 2-for-2 on field goals of 26 and 39 yards and handled kickoff duties with aplomb in the notoriously kicker-unfriendly Candlestick Park.

And on Friday night, Walsh moved indoors and had his coming-out party.

He went 5-for-6 on field goal attempts, connecting from 22, 47, 45, 40, and 30 yards out while missing a 49-yarder that he pushed wide right after a shaky snap/hold combination from Cullen Loeffler and Chris Kluwe.

Meanwhile, without another kicker on the roster, Walsh had to handle all nine Minnesota kickoffs, and that's where he really shone. Let's take a closer look at his kickoffs:

1 – 6 yards deep, returned to the 18
2 – squib to 2, returned to the 29
3 – 5 yards deep, returned to the 11
4 – through the end zone
5 – 8 yards deep, not returned
6 – 9 yards deep, not returned
7 – bounced at the 6, picked up 1 yard deep, returned to the 11
8 – fielded at the 4, returned to the 26
9 – through the uprights

Yes, you read that right – his final kickoff went through the uprights, a 75-yard bomb that split the posts and sent the few remaining fans into a frenzy. What made that even more impressive is that it was his third kickoff in about 10 minutes of actual clock time, thanks to Cole's touchdowns on consecutive plays.

He also hit all three of his extra-point attempts. And he did it all without the benefit of Mitch Berger's performance-enhancing Snickers.

After the game, Walsh told KFAN sideline reporter Greg Coleman that he took his eyes off the ball on his second kickoff, resulting in a squib kick that yielded Buffalo's best return of the night. A rookie mistake – hey, he's human – but on the other eight kickoffs he proved to be a weapon who will help the Vikings in the crucial field-position battle all season long.

It might be too early to start chiseling Walsh's bust in Canton, but given the team's myriad other concerns, Leslie Frazier and his staff have to be breathing a bit more easily when they ponder the team's kicking game.

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.

VikesCentric: Tempting fate with Adrian

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: August 14, 2012 - 5:42 PM

If I really wanted to drive page views and outrage with today's VikesCentric post I'd laud the Vikings for getting Adrian Peterson back on the practice field a mere 228 days after surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament. I'd urge them to continue their reckless aggression and thrust him into preseason games post haste, letting him play extensively to get his timing and confidence back. Then I'd sit back and watch the carnage unfold in the comments section below.

 
Peterson has been itching to get on the practice field in Mankato.

Peterson has been itching to get on the practice field in Mankato.

However, taking such a stereotypical "columnist" stand for the sake of stirring the pot isn't going to happen. For a franchise with such a rich history of bad timing, bad luck and bad outcomes I find it more than a bit alarming the Vikings are acquiescing to Peterson and letting him back on the practice field so soon.
 
Why tempt fate?
 
Sure, he made it through today's practice unscathed. That's great. But what if he hadn't? Yeah, I get that you can say that about any practice or game and about any player. You risk injury every time you step on a football field. However, this is their franchise player we're talking about here – the fulcrum of their offense and potential Hall of Famer, not to mention their highest-paid player. I know it's easy for me to suggest to Vikings coaches and trainers to let Peterson stew on the sideline, champing at the bit to get on the field. I'm not the one getting the ear-full from Adrian.
 
But that's exactly what they should be doing.
 
Furthermore, the notion of Peterson doing anything beyond standing on the sideline sipping a Gatorade during any preseason games is just foolish. Head coach Leslie Frazier was adamant that his defense not take Peterson down in practice; I doubt he'd be able to make that same request of the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 24 for preseason game three – the exhibition contest in which it is rumored Peterson could see some playing time.
 
Why put Peterson in harm's way when the easy option is to just let him continue to rehab and strengthen the knee in the weight room? Send him back for more of those Wii Fit video games in the trainer's room and keep him out of the pretend games of August.
 
What's more, I'd purposely ease Peterson back into the mix once the real games begin next month. The Vikings have a capable backup in Toby Gerhart and they should be able to defeat or at least hold their own against their first two opponents (the Jaguars and Colts) without Peterson receiving his normal workload.
 
I'll say it again: if Adrian is as superhuman in his recovery as they say he is they shouldn't be so concerned about getting him playing time so soon. A genetic freak like this should be able to get his timing down quickly and get back into football shape in a flash.
 
The potential downside of rushing Peterson back far out-weighs any incremental benefit in his recovery that they could derive from getting him back on the field now.
 
 
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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