Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.

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Posts about John Sullivan

Lambeau Lumps

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: January 6, 2013 - 12:52 AM

Wrapping up the game and the season from Lambeau early Sunday morning:

-Wrote my column about my primary observation, which is that if the Vikings had stuck with running the ball and the zone option, they may have been able to keep the game close. The Packers were on their heels during the first drive.

The Vikings' first eight plays were running plays. They marched easily down the field. Webb's first pass, on third-and-7, was an embarrassing ground ball. The Vikings settled for a field goal.

After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, the offense had a chance to dominate play and time of possession for all or most of the first quarter. Instead, the Vikings pretended they had a pocket passer. Webb threw two incompletions as the Vikings went three-and-out.

As they continued to steer away from the running game and rely on Webb in the pocket, the game got out of hand. I don't know if Webb could have won the game with his legs. But he lost it with his arm.

-When a baseball team loses in the playoffs, there's an air of sadness because the guys spend so much time together. When a football team loses in the playoffs, there is a sense of sadness because NFL players, especially those on good teams, give so much of themselves.

Everywhere you looked Saturday night, there was pain. John Sullivan had his right arm and shoulder heavily wrapped. Jared Allen was talking about offseason surgery to repair his shoulder. Antoine Winfield still had his broken hand wrapped. And everywhere were bruised, tired bodies. GM Rick Spielman walked around the lockerroom, thanking players, looking grim.

And careers are so short in the NFL that everyone knows the same group won't be back next year. Those NFL players who can play for a decade and earn big paychecks have good lives, as long as their bodies and brains and bank accounts hold up. But the sadness is real, because they don't know if they'll be back to the playoffs, or how many of them will be together even if they win a championship down the line.

-I think like most fans in this regard: I would be highly disappointed in Christian Ponder if he had any chance to play through the pain and passed. But he couldn't throw with any velocity in pregame warmups, and he had trouble even moving his right arm after the game.

We can critique his play and question his future, but I see no reason to question his toughness or character. I have no doubt that he desperately wanted to play.

-We have gotten to the point where Adrian Peterson can rush 22 times for 99 yards, a 4.5 average, and we can be disappointed. He's set quite the high bar.

-It was a lousy day of football. The Bengals and Texans were close to unwatchable. Webb's passing made the Packers game far less entertaining than it should have been. Sunday should be different. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson might be, as a group, the three best rookie quarterbacks we've ever seen.

-I like the way the Packers play. I like their receiving depth. I like the fact that they found DuJuan Harris, a speed back, to exploit defenses spread out to cover their receivers. I like the way Aaron Rodgers plays with such intelligence and poise.

But I'm just not seeing the Packers as a Super Bowl champ this year. I don't like their defensive line, or their linebackers outside Clay Matthews. I think they're too dependent on Rodgers to beat a high-quality team. I'd pick the 49ers to beat them next week.

And if that happens, don't be surprised if Colin Kaepernick running the read option, just the way Webb did on that first drive tonight, isn't a big key.

-My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib. I'm running SundaySportsTalk on 1500ESPN with Tom Pelissero Sunday morning from 10-noon, and I'm on the station at 2:05 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I'm also on WJON at 7:15 a.m. every weekday morning.

I'll have a season wrap-up column in the Monday paper, in which I'll attempt to put this season into some kind of historical context. Thanks for reading.

More on Vikings win

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 24, 2012 - 10:34 AM
 
I wrote about the obvious trust between Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph in today’s paper.
This might sound trite, but trust matters in the NFL. It matters a lot.
NFL teams ask their players to risk their health during short careers for the good of the franchise. For players to be eager to do so, it helps if they have reason to believe in the key people in the organization. And, during the season, the two people they have to trust the most are their head coach and quarterback.
Who knows whether beating the 49ers will mean anything in a few weeks? If the Vikings get whipped in Detroit, and that is a very real possibility, with Calvin Johnson facing a still-suspect secondary, then we may wind up viewing this victory as an aberration.
But it could matter no matter what happens this week, because Leslie Frazier and Christian Ponder gave their team reason to trust them on Sunday. Frazier’s vision of a physical team that wins with a running game and a stout defense materialized against the NFL’s gold standard in those departments. And Ponder displayed the ability to make clutch plays and beat a good team in his 13th start in the NFL.
His peers on the roster – young teammates like Kyle Rudolph and John Sullivan – rave about Ponder’s leadership abilities. But if you don’t win, the whole team won’t buy in. Ponder and Frazier moved closer to instilling faith in the roster on Sunday.
-One of the reasons I wrote about Ponder's three touchdown plays today is because so many NFL games turn on one, or two, or three big plays. Had Ponder executed poorly, or made poor decisions, on his three touchdown plays, the Vikings could have wound up with three or six points. Instead, Ponder produced 21 points. That's how upsets happen.
And had Ponder's worst pass of the day turned into a 49ers' touchdown, we might be talking about a loss today.
That's why the NFL is so unpredictable. And that's why I don't bet on sports.
-I can't remember being less interested in a Yankee-Twins series since 2000.
-Stat geeks favor Mike Trout as the AL MVP. Players and old-school writers favor Miguel Cabrera.
I think Trout is the more valuable player in theory, because he does everything well while playing exceptionally well in the field at a pivotal position. But within the context of this season, Cabrera's more valuable, simply because Cabrera has been exceptional while playing in more games. He's simply produced more for his team.
It's not Trout's fault that he wasn't with the Angels from Opening Day on. But the time he missed made him a less-valuable commodity over the course of a six-month season. And while Trout is far superior in the field, Cabrera's willingness and ability to play third base, however poorly, opened up first base and DH for the Tigers, making them a stronger team. That mitigates his fielding woes.
Cabrera has produced far more runs that Trout this season. He has a higher slugging percentage. Their on-base percentage is a virtual tie. And while stat geeks are correct when they say that RBI is not a good statistic for evaluating offensive efficiency, it is a very important stat within the context of a season, and an MVP race.
Games are won and lost based on whether a hitter can produce runs. Cabrera has excelled in that category over six months. He's the MVP.
-I’ll be on 1500espn at 2:05 today. My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
 

Bullying the bullies

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: September 23, 2012 - 6:50 PM

The Vikings' 24-13 upset of San Francisco might have been their most impressive performance since they beat Dallas in the playoffs in 2009. Their upset of Philadelphia in Philadelphia in 2010 was surprising, but those Eagles turned out to be a very flawed team, and with the game being postponed by weather, it never felt like a normal game.

This was different. This was the Vikings beating the 49ers at their own game. Here's what stood out to me:

1. A young Vikings roster that I don't think is talented enough yet to play with the league's big boys took it to the 49ers. They ran the ball. Percy Harvin, as usual, took it to defensive backs. Christian Ponder played with poise. The defense stifled the 49ers' power running game and pressured Alex Smith.

This is the way Leslie Frazier wants to win, and Sunday marked the first time you could see his vision played out on an NFL field against a superior team.

2. Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season. I know, I know, he's had a few dropped, and the 49ers could have changed the game by holding onto Ponder's one terrible throw in the fourth quarter,

Good quarterbacks thrown interceptions, too, though, and good quarterbacks have apparent interceptions dropped. The numbers, in this case, are accurate. Ponder has been careful with the ball and has completed 70 percent of his passes. After 13 NFL starts, he looks about as good as the Vikings could have hoped at this stage of his career.

3. Randy Moss looked like he didn't want to get hit. He short-armed a high throw and didn't appear interested in another pass that whistled by his head. He played sparingly in the fourth quarter of a game where the 49ers were desperate for a deep threat.

After all this time, Moss is pretty much everything everybody has ever said he is. He's a great receiver. He's one of the most unique talents in NFL history. He's a pain in the butt. And he is untrustworthy.

4. Ponder held a weird postgame press conference. He sounded like he wanted to pretend to be mad at everyone who didn't pick the Vikings to win the Super Bowl. But he's such a nice, reasonable guy, that he couldn't maintain the fake anger and kept making jokes.

He did keep bringing up the Super Bowl. Make of that what you will. I do think that Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, John Sullivan, Matt Kalil and the other young offensive players believe they're building something here. The question, for me, is whether they will be ready to win big while Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin are still healthy and in their prime.

Even in a game we all know if violent, Peterson and Harvin are exceptions. They run with exceptional effort.

5. Chad Greenway is having an outstanding season. He's shown up in the pass rush and in pass coverage. He's been a strong performer against the running game for years, but the man does work at his craft and you can see improvement across the board this year.

6. Sportswriters and radio hosts pick games because picking games can make for interesting copy and fodder. But we really shouldn't. We don't know who's going to win. If we did, we'd all live in Vegas. In penthouses in Vegas.

We don't. I proved that again today. I thought the 49ers would win by about 10.

Please don't ever take the advice of a sportswriter when betting. Nothing good will come of it.

Other stuff:

-Restaurant recommendation of the day: Lola's Pizzeria in Southwest Minneapolis, on Xerxes. Great food and atmosphere.

-Tailgated outside TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Nice atmosphere. Not as rowdy as some college campuses, but I think that's a good thing. People were friendly and calm, and the band sounded great.

-I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 tomorrow, and on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m.

-Luckily for me, I'll be covering the Ryder Cup in Chicago this week. It's one of the few things I haven't done as a writer that I had always wanted to do. Next wish: The British Open at St. Andrews one of these years.

 

Rare NFL draft that's better than expected

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: April 26, 2012 - 11:08 PM

Let me tell you a secret: Most sportswriters hate the NFL draft.

It requires months of work, much of which proves meaningless to the local team. It's often over-hyped and over-discussed and becomes fertile ground for bad rumors, like the funny one going around this afternoon about the Vikings really wanting Morris Claiborne or, funnier, Justin Blackmon.

Thursday was different. My Friday column explores Rick Spielman's first draft as Vikings' GM, but I'll get in a few quick hitters here:

-This was actually an interesting draft both nationally and locally.

Nationally, the NFL had two tremendously talented yet dissimilar quarterbacks go with the first two picks. Locally, we had the Vikings fooling a lot of national media people about their intentions, then trading down to get the fourth pick, and later trading back into the bottom of the first round, ending up with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, two players they had targeted all along.

-While many people have rightly obsessed about cornerback, I love the fact the Vikings took the best safety available. In the Tampa-2 scheme, you need a safety who can drop into the box and make tackles, and prevent big pass plays. And while you can game-plan around a good cornerback, you can't game-plan around a safety.

Think of the impact safeties on good teams in recent years: Troy Polamalu, Bob Sanders, LaRon Landry. They intercept passes and blow up running plays and generally make more impact plays per game than even great cornerbacks.

-I love both picks. Kalil, to me, was the safest pick in the draft, given the number of sure-thing quarterbacks who flame out. Before the draft started, I thought Smith would be ideal for the Vikings but didn't think he'd fall to them, or that they'd be able to trade up high enough to take him.

-Kalil sounded genuinely excited about playing for the Vikings. With Kalil, Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings have an intriguing core of young offensive players. Their success will be dependent on Ponder's development, but he'll have a better chance to develop with a bunch of talented young players around him.

-I think Spielman had a very good day, and he left little doubt that he'll target receiver and cornerback during the rest of the draft. He admitted that the draft room worked much better with one person in charge. ``It went a lot smoother,'' he said.

Hard to disagree.

-------------------

I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Friday to discuss the draft. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.

 

Two stuck-in-the-middle teams

Posted by: Jim Souhan Updated: August 1, 2011 - 12:08 PM

The Twins didn't trade away players at the deadline because they think they can still win the division. They didn't trade for players because they don't want to pay the high prices required for them to acquire a bullpen arm when they're in the fourth place in the division on Aug. 1.

They're stuck in the middle. I've heard outrage from both sides, that the Twins should have traded their players headed to free agency, and that they should have sold out trying to win this year.

I'm just not surprised that they did neither. To trade an everyday player or a prospect for a reliever could damage their long-term plans without dramatically increasing this team's chances of winning. to trade away Michael Cuddyer, their most valuable player on the trade market, when they're still in contention would be one way of telling fans not to show up at Target Field for the rest of the season.

From a purely logical standpoint, I believe the Twins should have traded Cuddyer. But the Twins care about their clubhouse culture and rewarding the right players, and Cuddyer is the best organizational player they've had, in terms of being a personification of everything they teach and value, in a long time.

We all begin our evaluation of teams by gauging their ability to win a championship, but there is more to sports than that. If keeping Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Matt Capps around gives this team a chance to win the division and encourages people to buy tickets, then maybe this is the right approach.

I'm on record saying I would have sold pieces off to try to rebuild the franchise's talent base. But while I disagree with the Twins' decision, I also, on a gut level, like it when franchises stubbornly insist on winning, and keep trying to keep a good thing going.

As for the Vikings, this is a strange set a circumstances. They have a first-year coach, a free-agent quarterback trying to learn the offense in a short period of time, a new offensive coordinator, and a slew of very good players who might not have many effective years left in their legs.

Like the Twins, the Vikings are stuck in the middle. To win nine or 10 games, they'll need surprising performances from Donovan McNabb, Bryant McKinnie, John Sullivan, Steve Hutchinson, Cedric Griffin, Jared Allen, Brian Robison...just about every veteran on the team.

How many of their best players are sure things, presuming good health? Adrian Peterson, Chad Greenway, Antoine Winfield...and that's about it. All of their other name players are either aging or coming off disappointing seasons or injuries.

So why should the Vikings avoid a true rebuilding process? Because sport is unpredictable. I still don't think the Bears were all that good last year, but they wound up on the right side of the Calvin Johnson ruling, got to face the Seahawks in the playoffs and suddenly found themselves with a chance to win the NFC title game against the team that would eventually win the Super Bowl.

So my attitude toward the Vikings is the same as it is toward the Twins: It might be smart, in a clinical sense, to rebuild, but neither franchise is willing to give up. And there's something to be said for trying to win every year, regardless of the circumstances. Remember: Rebuilding sounds good until you try it and it doesn't work.

-News just broke, via ESPN, that Randy Moss is retiring.

I think the Vikings should hold a ceremony to honor him. He can stand on a podium at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., and then, as he begins his speech, everyone can walk off, and into the locker room.

And then Matt Birk can finally beat him up.

-Upcoming: I'll be on 1500espn at 2:40 today with Pat and Phil, then on with Phunn in the 6 o'clock hour. I'm also hosting the Phunn House on Tuesday night from 6-8:30 on 1500.

I'm in Mankato until Tuesday afternoon, and I'll tweet as warranted at @Souhanstrib.

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