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 Packers

VikesCentric: Fire Frazier?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: November 22, 2011 - 12:22 AM

Bud Grant retired as the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 27, 1984. His replacement was a fiery ex-Marine named Les Steckel, who had never been a head coach at any level but leap-frogged longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns in the line of succession to Grant's throne.

Steckel charged into the role like a man dying to prove he deserved the promotion. The Vietnam vet turned training camp into boot camp, Mankato serving as a poor man's Parris Island. Veterans began to rebel on Day 1, when Steckel kicked things off with an Ironman competition – an extreme obstacle course that claimed victims with pulled hamstrings, acute exhaustion and vomitus projectilius.

It went downhill from there.

After a 2-2 start, the 1984 Vikings finished 3-13. They might have lost their final 12 games if not for 42-year-old Jan Stenerud, who hit a 53-yard field goal at the final gun to beat Tampa Bay 27-24 at the Metrodome. That snapped a five-game losing streak in which the Vikings lost by an average of less than a touchdown.

Victory No. 3 didn't exactly give the Purple momentum. Over the final six weeks, the Fightin' Steckels were outscored 241-79, an average score of roughly 40-13. Steckel got the axe and Grant returned for one more season before handing the reins to Burnsie, launching an era best remembered for profane press conferences, Big Knockers and booing Bob Schnelker.

This trip down memory lane is timely because – judging by the activity of the #firefrazier Twitter hashtag on Sunday – many fans are wondering if Leslie Frazier's head coaching career will mirror Steckel's one-and-done blip on the radar of Vikings history. It's a legitimate question – Frazier needs another victory just to match the franchise's 1984 nadir, and with Adrian Peterson sidelined by a high ankle sprain, an offensive line held together by baling twine and rubber bands, and a secondary rivaling only the U.S. Congress in both job approval and competence, that third victory will be hard to come by.

Can Frazier survive a two-win rookie season, or even a three- or four-win campaign? If you're inclined to draw comparisons to Les Steckel, then your answer will be determined by how the 2011 Vikings finish the season.

The Purple played their worst six quarters of the season in their loss at Green Bay and the first half of Sunday's debacle against Oakland. The second-half rally against the Raiders merely served as a spray of Febreze on the raging tire fire that the 2011 season has become.

But if that second-half performance becomes the norm rather than the exception the rest of the year, Frazier's job is probably safe.

Nothing stinks more than a team that has quit on its coach. Burns was fired after his 1991 Vikings mailed in a 27-7 loss to the Packers in the season finale at the dome. Ten years later, Dennis Green was canned after a 33-3 home loss to Jacksonville dropped the Vikings' record to 5-9. Brad Childress got his pink slip last year after the Packers dismantled the Purple 31-3 for Minnesota's seventh loss in 10 games.

In each case, the players had clearly tuned out the head coach, whose act had worn thin after varying levels of success. Frazier doesn't have that success to fall back on, but he's still a rookie coach who will be given a bit more rope by the owners who don't want to admit a mistake if they don't have to.

Again, let's review Les Steckel's final six games as the Vikings' head coach: 

Packers 45, Vikings 17
Broncos 42, Vikings 21
Bears 34, Vikings 3
Redskins 31, Vikings 17
49ers 51, Vikings 7
Packers 38, Vikings 14

If Leslie Frazier's final six games follow a similar pattern, it's even money that he joins Steckel as the only one-year head coaches in Vikings history. But if Frazier can inspire his players to display even the slightest hint of backbone down the stretch, look for him to get a second chance to show why the Wilfs hired him in the first place.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

 

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: Do the Vikings have any chance at Lambeau?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 9, 2011 - 5:32 PM

Last Wednesday, when I was on KFAN with Paul Allen, he was already looking 12 days down the road past the bye week to Monday night's game against the Packers in Green Bay. I couldn't really blame him since he's the "voice of the Vikings" and the team had the week off. Why not look down the road a bit? After all, there was nothing very worthwhile to look back on from the first half. 

However, I was a little caught off-guard when PA not only looked ahead but suggested that the Vikings might be able to beat the Packers and then run the table.
 
Now, I know Paul drinks a lot of Purple Kool-Aid (I'm pretty sure it's in his contract) and I know he lives and dies with the Vikings. But I assumed he was being a little tongue-in-cheek with this particular bit of speculation. I played along and said the Vikings could give the Pack a game if they played them as well as they did in Week 7 at the dome when they only lost by six.
 
I went on with PA again this Wednesday and, and even though he didn't bring up his fanciful notion that the Vikings might pull the massive upset this Monday, I could tell he was fired up. Then I saw his "Bits and Boredom" post for Wednesday over on KFAN.com where he once again speculates how tremendous it would be if the Vikings won the rest of their games.
 
As you can see from the link, just above the post is a clip of Gary Wright's 1976 classic "Dreamweaver."
 
Yeah, PA is dreaming and he knows it.
 
No one in their right mind can seriously think the Vikings are going to make a playoff run this season, to say nothing of their chances of "running the table." Not a chance. But do the Vikings have a shot of defeating the Green Bay Packers in prime time to end their 14-game winning streak? Any chance at all?
 
I certainly don't think they do. Nor do the Vegas odds-makers who have installed the Super Bowl champs as a two-touchdown favorite.
 
Based on the "on any given Sunday... or in this case, Monday" rule, however, the Vikings have a shot. Anyone has a shot of beating anyone else, I suppose. So what is the Vikings' perfect recipe for winning on Monday night?
 
I can think of only a few scenarios that don't have something to do with an injury that knocks Aaron Rodgers out of the game – which I would never root for, and not just because Rodgers is on a few of my fantasy football teams. Rodgers might be the best player in the NFL right now and – even if you despise the Green and Gold, as I suspect a high percentage of those reading this blog do – he is darn fun to watch if you call yourself a football fan. He's having a season for the ages. Any defeat of the Packers that doesn't include Rodgers would be a hollow victory. Let's not go with the injury scenario.
 
So how do the Vikings beat the Packers with Rodgers at the helm?
 
The most obvious answer might be to keep the ball away from him as much as possible. Despite the Packers' feeble pass defense, no team has been able to out-point their fast-break offense this season. The Chargers tried to last week, but fell short.
 
Playing keep-away might be the only way.
 
And if any team is uniquely qualified to play keep-away, it's the Minnesota Vikings. They have the NFL's best running back, fresh off his bye week. Give Adrian Peterson 30 carries. Give Toby Gerhart 10. Give Percy Harvin a handful. Run, run, run, and run the clock down. Long drives will give the Packers fewer chances to score and keep the Vikings defense fresh. It's an age-old strategy – one that every team that has faced the Packers this season has undoubtedly already considered.
 
Sounds great in theory, huh?
 
A win over the dreaded rivals from the East on Monday night in an otherwise joyless season might be enough to do the unthinkable: put a smile on the faces of Vikings fans.  In reality, though, I think we'll have funding approved for a new Vikings stadium before this team beats the Packers again.
 
Vikings fans: suspending reality for a moment, what is your dream scenario for beating the Packers on Monday night? Share your winning recipe for the Vikes in the comments section below.
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: It doesn't feel like Packers week

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 19, 2011 - 10:00 PM

Wait a minute… this is "Packers Week," isn't it?

Yep, I just double-checked: the Vikings absolutely host the Packers at Mall of America Field this Sunday afternoon at 3:15.
 
Normally, Packers Week in Vikings territory is filled with back-and-forth taunting and braggadocio across the state line -- or in some cases even across the office or across the living room. The Vikings/Packers border battle is the biggest rivalry in Minnesota sports and one of the biggest in the NFL, but you'd never know it this week.
 
Whether by some odd design or coincidence, Vikings fans find themselves distracted by shiny objects in the days leading up to Sunday's showdown, namely: a new starting quarterback and the prospect of a shiny, new stadium. 
 
Perhaps it's a good thing the focus is elsewhere. Frankly, the Vikings/Packers rivalry isn't really much of a rivalry right now. On paper it's a sizeable mismatch.
 
Just two years ago, during Brett Favre's first season with the Vikings, the intra-divisional feud was at its zenith. Who will ever forget that Bizarro-World Monday night in October of 2009 when Favre played as a Viking against the Packers for the first time? The buzz was off the charts and the prime time contest drew record ratings.
 
The Vikings swept the Packers in 2009 en route to the NFC Championship game. The Packers reciprocated in 2010, and one-upped the Vikes by sweeping them en route to a Super Bowl championship. The second game of the series in 2010 – a 31-3 blowout by the Packers at the Metrodome – was the final straw for Brad Childress. It also signaled a hiatus in the heated rivalry.
 
Vikings/Packers will become a true rivalry once again, in time, provided the Vikings get a new stadium in the Twin Cities rather than relocating to Hollywood.
 
(Side note: by mentioning a new stadium not once, but twice, I have virtually ensured that at least 95 percent of the comments below will not be about the Vikings/Packers, but will instead be anti-stadium rants.)   
 
For now, however, even the most ardent Vikings fan can't boast with a straight face that they have a shot of beating the snot out of the Packers on Sunday. Yeah, I know, I know, "on any given Sunday…" but let's be serious.  On paper, this doesn't look like much of a game.
 
Starting with that four-touchdown loss to the Packers last season, the Vikings have won just four of their last 14 regular season games. Meanwhile, including last year's postseason, the Packers have won the last 12 times they have taken the field. The Packers are the only undefeated team in the NFL right now and they lead the league in points.
 
So what's the worst thing that could happen for Vikings fans this Sunday? It's not another four- or five-touchdown blowout. I would argue the worst thing that could happen to the Vikings is having the Packers treat them like they did the Rams last Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers raced to a 28-3 halftime lead over the Rams last week, and then… stopped trying. They took the foot off the gas and toyed with the Rams in the second half like a dog plays with its food.
 
It was almost as if they felt sorry for the Rams so they showed some mercy. It was kinda sad.
 
If this Sunday's game gets that out of hand – if even the Vikings' hated rivals from across the border don't consider them as a serious enough threat to put forth a full, 60-minute effort – then this season will have reached a new low.
 
Vikings fans can only hope it doesn't come to that.
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Stats (probably) don't lie - the offensive line is improving

Posted by: Updated: October 13, 2011 - 3:01 PM

Football doesn’t lend itself to “sophisticated” statistical analysis quite like baseball does. The entire game of baseball essentially boils down to a series of one-on-one confrontations (between pitcher and batter, for example, or fielder vs. ball), the outcome of which is easily measurable (a batter either gets a hit or he doesn’t, a hit is a single, a double, a triple, or a homer, etc.). In the NFL, there are 11 moving parts on both of sides of the ball that largely have to work in unison to make anything happen. There are no traditional statistics to measure the play of an offensive lineman, for example, or anything but the most rudimentary stats to measure the effectiveness of, say, a cornerback (interceptions and passes defensed don't tell the whole story).

There are, however, a couple of websites that have made inroads into the world of in-depth statistical analysis for the NFL. The two most prominent of these are Football Outsiders (FO) and Pro Football Focus (PFF). Others include KC Joyner’s work at ESPN and ESPN’s recently unveiled and shamelessly over-promoted Total QBR statistic. From time-to-time, I plan to use these sources (primarily FO and PFF) to enlighten you, trusty VikesCentric reader, on... well, anything that strikes my fancy as being more than passably interesting to Vikings fans.

An important caveat here is that there is a huge element of humanity involved in how both FO and PFF compile their advanced statistics. By that, I mean that they aren’t able to simply take “traditional” stats that are easy to measure, twist them up in impressively mathtastic ways, and spit out a new stat that more accurately describes an individual player’s performance (like a baseball sabermagician might do when referring to a pitcher’s FIP, for example). Instead, they have an army of presumably intelligent people that analyze every play of every game in extremely minute detail. This is referred to, generally, as game charting. And it’s not for the faint of heart. According to PFF, charting a single game takes roughly 16 hours. These people are intimately familiar with their televisions and the pause/rewind/slo-mo functions of their DVR remotes. And, as with any human endeavoer, it involves a certain amount of subjectivity on the part of the game charters. A play deemed successful by one charter may not necessarily be graded the same way by another, etc. In any case, after the charting is complete, FO and PFF have their own systems of grading the performance of, say, a cornerback or an offensive lineman.

Which brings me to a nice starting point; the Vikings offensive line, which by most accounts was expected to be a serious cause for concern coming into the season. While the results have been mixed – particularly in terms of pass protection – the game charters and math wizards would have us believe there are several notable trends emerging along the Purple’s offensive line:

1) Phil Loadholt is quietly becoming a very good right tackle.

2) John Sullivan isn’t as bad as you may have been lead to believe.

Let’s begin with Loadholt. According to PFF, Loadholt registered the highest single-game run-blocking score of his career during last week’s win over the Cardinals. Loadholt, matched up primarily with Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett, paved the way for the Vikings to average 7.0 yards per carry on runs to either side of Loadholt a week ago, and according to the ICSIWMOTE Index that I just made up (I Can See It With My Own Two Eyes Index), he threw key blocks on two of Peterson’s three touchdown runs. Loadholt was given a +3.8 rating for run blocking last week, bringing his yearly total to +9.4. Generally, a grade of 0 means a blocker did essentially what you’d expect the average NFL offensive lineman to do on any given play. A grade of +0.5 or +1 (up to a max of +2) is an indication that the player made “a positive intervention on the game” of varying degree, a negative grade means the opposite (a “negative intervention,” I suppose... soon to undoubtedly be coined a "T-Jack"). In the Loadholt example, you add up all the zeroes, positives, and negatives for every single play of last week’s game to eventually arrive at a total of +3.8. It’s science.

Putting it in a little more perspective, Loadholt’s cumulative +9.4 run blocking grade ranks first in the NFL through five weeks, well ahead of the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga and the Patriots’ Matt Light. If that hasn’t yet sunk in, according to smart people who watch every play of every game over and over and over (and over) again for up to 16 hours at a time, Phil Loadholt is the best run-blocking tackle in all of football. Even if you include guards and centers, Loadholt is still the No. 2 run-blocker in the NFL, according to PFF. Side note:  For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll conveniently overlook the fact that Loadholt has graded out at -9.7 in terms of pass blocking, due primarily to the fact that he allowed six quarterback pressures, a hit, and a sack in the come-from-ahead loss to the Lions three weeks ago. We’re talking about run blocking here, folks, not pass blocking.

The Football Outsiders tend to agree with this assessment. According to FO’s “adjusted line yards” stat (for a detailed description and to see the full rankings, click here, and consider yourself warned that it includes terms like “regression analysis,” “normalize,” and “move out of your mom’s basement already.”), the Vikings’ offensive line ranks third in the NFL on runs over right tackle, and eight in overall run blocking.

As for Sullivan, he’s also been noticeably better this year than he was during an injury-plagued 2010 campaign. Sullivan has graded out positively in the running game in all but one game thus far, and at a cumulative +4.4 for the season, he ranks as the No. 5 run-blocking center in the NFL. Last year, Sullivan earned a cumulative -7.9 grade, and only garnered positive rankings in five of the 14 games in which he played significant snaps. For the record, Loadholt came in at a whopping -14.3 in run blocking last season.

The idea of Sullivan and Loadholt creating running room can also be shown through an analysis of Adrian Peterson’s yardage gained by “rush direction.” PFF’s analysis shows that Peterson has gained 8.4 yards per carry on rushes between Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera, 4.7 per carry to the right of Herrera (and left of Loadholt), and 4.3 per carry over right tackle. As previously noted, FO ranks the Vikings as the third-best team in terms of runs over right tackle. And finally, if you’re looking for any additional corroboration from a more "traditional" source, Peterson's situational stat page on Yahoo indicates that he averages 5.9 yards per carry when running “right” and 5.7 when running “wide right”.

Another side note Jared Allen and Brian Robison migh find interestig heading into Week 6: The Bears' starting tackles from 2010 (and for most of 2011 after first-rounder Gabe Carimi got injured), D'Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale ranked as the 77th- and 75th-worst tackles in the NFL last year (out of 78 that qualified for the ranking), according to PFF. In other words, with only one exception (Cardinals' revolving door Levi Brown, who finished 78th overall), neither of the two starting tackles for the Bears would have been good enough to start on any other team in the NFL.
 

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.

VikesCentric: A memorable rivalry

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: October 7, 2011 - 10:41 AM

 

For two teams that don't play in the same division, the Vikings and Cardinals have put together a pretty impressive run of memorable games lately. Sunday's game will be the sixth meeting between the teams in the last nine years, and four of the last five games have carried special significance for the Purple.

So join us, won't you, as we take a walk down memory lane and revisit this curious rivalry between the desert dwellers and the tenants of the tundra.

Nov. 7, 2010 – Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)
Fresh off the debacle in New England and the release of Randy Moss, Brad Childress needed his team to make a statement in the Metrodome in order to save his job. But for the first 55 minutes of the game, that statement appeared to be, "Fire the bum already!" The Cardinals led by 14 and the Vikings were spinning their wheels until Brett Favre briefly became The Ol' Gunslinger again, leading the offense on two TD drives in the final 4 minutes and 32 seconds and sending the game into overtime on a 25-yard strike to Visanthe Shiancoe with 27 seconds left.

Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards, including a 22-yard pass to Bernard Berrian (he must have had no other options) that set up Ryan Longwell's 35-yard game-winning field goal that temporarily calmed the fans' thirst for Childress' blood.

"I think they came expecting to see an execution, and it ended up a pretty good football game at the end," Childress said afterwards. But it was just a temporary reprieve for the 3-5 Vikings and their beleaguered head coach. Two weeks later, after a listless home loss to the Packers, the fans got their wish and Chilly got his pink slip.

 

Dec. 6, 2009 – Cardinals 30, Vikings 17
The Vikings were riding high at 10-1 when they traveled to Phoenix to take on the Cardinals in a nationally televised Sunday night game. The offense had been held below 27 points only once, in their lone loss at Pittsburgh a month earlier. But Favre threw two picks (after having thrown only three in the previous 11 games) and Adrian Peterson was held to 19 yards on 13 carries as the Vikings fell behind 21-10 at the half and didn't do much the rest of the way.

In many ways, this game was the beginning of the end for the magical 2009 season. Favre was seen quarreling with Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sidelines, the first actual evidence of the infamous schism that became an undercurrent of the final two months of the season. Throw in E.J. Henderson's gruesome broken leg, which forced rookie Jasper Brinkley into a key role the rest of the way, and this loss knocked the Vikings off-kilter on both sides of the ball.

 

Dec. 14, 2008 – Vikings 35, Cardinals 14
At 8-5, the visiting Vikings needed two wins in their last three games to wrap up a playoff berth, while the Cardinals already had sewn up the NFC West (their first division title in 33 years), and from the outset it was clear which team had shown up to play. Stepping in for the injured Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson threw a career-high four touchdown passes and the Vikings raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Berrian returned a punt 82 yards for Minnesota's first score, and Jackson later hit him on a 41-yard rainbow for another TD (too bad B-Twice wasn't on Twitter yet) and the rout was on.

The Vikings went on to beat the Giants in Week 17 to clinch the NFC North before losing to the Eagles and some guy named McNabb in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were destroyed in New England the next week, then rattled off a nice little four-game winning streak to reach their first-ever Super Bowl.

 

Nov. 26, 2006 – Vikings 31, Cardinals 26
Umm … OK, this one's not actually worth remembering. The Vikings got three TD passes from Brad Johnson (to Marcus Robinson, Billy McMullen and Jeff Dugan – I told you it wasn't worth remembering) while Cardinals rookie Matt Leinart threw for 405 yards, a mark he hasn't come close to matching since. Denny Green made his not-so-triumphant return to Minnesota that day, but his 2-9 Cards were no match for Chilly's 5-6 juggernaut. Arizona did tie an NFL record with two 99-yard touchdowns – a kickoff return by J.J. Arrington and a fumble return by Adrian Wilson – but the Vikings pulled out to a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter and held on for what turned out to be a pretty meaningless win in a pretty meaningless season.

Perhaps the game was most notable for being the first meeting between the Cardinals and Vikings since …

 

Dec. 28, 2003 – Cardinals 18, Vikings 17
"NOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!" Yes, all the Vikings had to do was defend one more play and the NFC North crown would have been theirs, in Mike Tice's second season as head coach, no less.

But of course, we all remember Arizona quarterback Josh McCown scrambling to his right and heaving the ball into the end zone, where journeyman receiver Nate Poole hauled it in and got two feet down for a 28-yard touchdown that sent the Vikings home for the season, put the Packers in the playoffs, and gave Paul Allen his first dose of national airtime with that painful final play call.

(NOTE: Careful readers have pointed out that Poole technically did not get two feet down -- the Vikings were victimized by the lame "force-out" rule that's since been excised from the books. True. Also a distinction without a difference. It didn't make that flight back from Phoenix any happier for the Vikings knowing that if the play had occurred in a different era they would have won. And yet, thanks to those who have pointed out the discrepancy.)

So what will we remember from this year's Vikings-Cardinals game? Will it be the start of the Christian Ponder Era? Will Donovan McNabb save his job and get head coach Leslie Frazier his first victory since the interim tag was removed from his title? Or maybe Larry Fitzgerald will blow up for four touchdowns, Kevin Kolb will start earning that ridiculous contract he weasled out of the Cardinals, and Berrian will insult a nun on Facebook. As recent history has shown, almost anything is possible when the Vikings and Cardinals get together.

 

 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

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