Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Blown execution has cost Vikings dearly on big plays

Posted by: under Vikings, Leslie Frazier, Antoine Winfield, Chris Kluwe, Leslie Frazier Updated: September 20, 2012 - 3:49 PM
All three of the Vikings coordinators – Alan Williams on defense, Bill Musgrave on offense and Mike Priefer on special teams – held press conferences Thursday as the team continues its preparation for a Week 3 home game with San Francisco.
 
All three coaches reflected back on Sunday’s disheartening 23-20 loss in Indianapolis while also looking ahead to the 49ers game. Here are the highlights:
 
DEFENSE
 
Henderson's status iffy for Sunday
 
Through two games, the Vikings have remained incredibly healthy. And the only starter on either side of the ball to miss Thursday’s practice was linebacker Erin Henderson, who was out for a second consecutive day with a concussion.
 
Henderson is coming off a solid game against Indianapolis in which he recorded 13 tackles, including three for loss. But he also had a major mess-up in coverage just before halftime, allowing Colts receiver Reggie Wayne to get behind him for a 30-yard touchdown grab with 7 seconds left.
 
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Thursday that if Henderson were unable to play this weekend against San Francisco, Jasper Brinkley would inherit his snaps in nickel looks while Marvin Mitchell would be in line then to start at the weakside linebacker position.
 
Williams has been high on Henderson’s effort the first two weeks, even if that Wayne touchdown has put him front and center for a high-profile miscue.
 
“It’s a shame,” Williams said. “Because he played an outstanding ballgame. He really played well. That doesn’t take away the touchdown that happened. … But he was doing well, extremely well.”
 
Williams said he has confidence in Mitchell, a sixth-year veteran who has played in 71 games and made a pair of starts in 2009 with New Orleans.
 
“Everything that happens is not new to him out there,” Williams said. “And when he’s been in ballgames, he’s performed well. So that gives me comfort.”

Big plays, big mistakes
 
The three longest plays the Vikings’ defense has surrendered in the opening two games have been the result of basic execution breakdowns. On Jacksonville’s go-ahead 39-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in Week 1, cornerback Chris Cook erred in letting receiver Cecil Shorts get behind him in a Cover 3 look. Last week, Antoine Winfield stumbled with an Andrew Luck deep ball in the air, misjudging the throw and getting beaten for a 41-yard reception by Donnie Avery. And then there was Wayne’s touchdown in which Henderson didn’t get the proper depth in his coverage and safety Mistral Raymond was late in converging. In other words, those were execution breakdowns as opposed to confusion with assignment.
 
“Very accurate assessment,” Williams said. “Any way [it goes], you don’t want it to happen. But I think it’s just understanding the situation that we’re in during the ballgame. We’ve said that we want to be situational smart football players and I think that’s taking time – more time than we would like.”
 
Respect for Randy
 
Predictably, Williams asserted that he is plenty worried about the explosive playmaking potential 49ers receiver Randy Moss has. Moss, now 35, has five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco’s first two wins. But his playing time has been limited, perhaps with the 49ers trying to make sure they can keep him fresh late into what looks like it will be a promising season.
 
Said Williams of Moss: “You never want to turn Moss loose. That would be a mistake not to pay attention to Randy Moss. Until he’s turned in his retirement papers, I think every defensive coordinator and every secondary and every defense is going to pay attention to him. You have to.”
 
OFFENSE
 
Major challenge
 
While Williams is worrying about Moss, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave knows the Vikings will have their hands full trying to contain San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith, one of the most aggressive playmakers on a unified and disciplined defense.
 
Smith has not missed a start in more than 10 seasons, is renowned for his unrelenting effort and is also a defensive lineman adept at using his hands well.
 
“He’s the heartbeat of their defense,” Musgrave said. “he makes a lot of plays whether you run at him or run away from him. We’ve got our work cut out to try to match his intensity and neutralize him.”
 
The Wright stuff
 
The Vikings will have to wait until next week to get suspended receiver Jerome Simpson back in action. But it’s possible rookie Jarius Wright could provide the offense with some pop this week, ready to make his NFL debut after missing the first two games with a sprained ankle. Wright’s last action came in the preseason finale in Houston, where he had six catches for 122 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown grab.
 
Might this be a boost to quarterback Christian Ponder’s ability to take some shots down field?
 
“[Wright] has good quickness, has good hands,” Musgrave said. “We feel like he can beat man-to-man coverage and also has a sense for zone. We’re excited about his future.”
 
SPECIAL TEAMS
 
Upon further review …
 
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer still questions whether safety Andrew Sendejo truly roughed Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee early in the third quarter on what turned out to be a costly 15-yard penalty that kept a Colts field goal drive alive.
 
“I think it’s still a gray area and it’s a difficult play to call,” Priefer said. “It happened so quickly. It was definitely a running into [the punter]. Do I think it was a roughing? I don’t know. That’s hard to tell, even after looking at the tape. It was a great acting job by their punter.”
 
Regardless, Priefer was more upset that neither Sendejo nor Everson Griffen were able to block McAfee’s kick despite coming through clean against a look that the Vikings were ready for.
 
“It really opened up like we thought it would,” Priefer said. “We just need to make a play there. The punter worked a little bit more to his right than we thought and Andrew came down a little bit more over the center. But on that hash, they’d been punting more towards downfield rather than drifting to our left, his right. It was unfortunate. I really felt we had a play there.”
 
Foot loose
 
As Priefer was speaking with reporters Thursday, punter Chris Kluwe was across the Winter Park field house filming a public service announcement to fight hunger, an extracurricular obligation his coordinator knew nothing about, even as Kluwe booted a loaf of bread about 10 yards.
 
“I’m on a need-to-know basis,” Priefer joked.
 
Of course, Kluwe has been all over in recent weeks, doing dozens of interviews and making a handful of high-profile TV appearances after he wrote an edgy and powerful column for Deadspin.com with strong support for gay marriage.
Priefer said that he and head coach Leslie Frazier will try to keep a pulse on whether Kluwe’s off-the-field activities are impacting his football responsibilities.
 
“The one thing Chris has been able to do has been keep it separate,” Priefer said. “Once it becomes a distraction for our football team, that’s when I’ll step in. I think that’s my job. And that’s what I told Coach Frazier what I will do.”
As for Kluwe’s production? Through two games, he’s averaged 48.2 yards on nine punts with a net of 44.2. But he has benefited a couple times from friendly rolls on mis-hit kicks.
 
“He’s been a little bit inconsistent,” Priefer said. “He’s hit some really nice balls. And he’s hit some where we expect more from him and he expects more from himself. So I would hope that as we go forward he’s going to be more consistent.”

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