Mark Craig's Sunday Insider: Vikings' flag total is flagging

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 23, 2012 - 12:38 PM

The Vikings have greatly cut the number of penalties they commit in games by hiring referees for practices.

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Against the Purple? Likely not. The Vikings have the fourth-fewest penalties in the league.

Photo: Joe Mahoney, Associated Press

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With runs of 82 and 52 yards in St. Louis last week, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson matched Barry Sanders' NFL single-season record of seven runs of 50 yards or more.

While that's an amazing feat, there's something else extraordinary going on with the Vikings this season.

Think back to all those long runs. The two that went a career-long 82 yards. The ones that went 74, 64, 61, 52 and 51 yards.

Remember what you didn't see on any of them?

Here's a hint: They're yellow and they've traditionally been found near the feet of players wearing purple.

Yes, we're talking about penalty flags. Or the lack, thereof.

The Vikings have only 75 penalties this season. That's the fourth-lowest total in the league for a team that hasn't ranked better than 13th since 1997 and bottomed out with a league-worst 137 in 2002.

Of those 75 penalties, only 12 have been for offensive holding. That's the third-lowest total for a team with a running back who gets to the second and third levels quicker than a catapult.

"You see it all the time," coach Leslie Frazier said. "A running back breaks a long run and [the play's] brought back because of receivers down the field holding.

"Credit to [receivers coach] George Stewart and our wide receivers. We place a lot of emphasis on our wide receivers blocking down the field because we believe with the back we have in Adrian, there's a chance on every play that he might break it. So your block down the field is not inconsequential, it's important."

The Vikings are on pace for 86 penalties. The fewest they've had in a non-strike year since the regular season was expanded to 16 games in 1978 were 83 in 1990. The highest they've ranked in fewest penalties is fifth in 1990 and 1980.

Frazier credited the players' improved focus. But he also gave a nod to owner Zygi Wilf for agreeing to Frazier's offseason proposal to hire officials to work every practice.

In the past, the Vikings have used officials in training camp only.

"Once again, it was our ownership really buying into some things that I've talked to them about," Frazier said. "I was really concerned about penalties. I was talking with some other coaches around the league just to get a feel for trying to get some ideas in how we can improve this. One of the coaches I talked with mentioned that they had tried to use officials in practice and he saw a dramatic decrease in their penalties.

"I said, 'Man, that's not a bad idea. Maybe that might help us'. I talked to our ownership about it because [officials] aren't going to volunteer their time, and [ownership was] willing to support it."

Linebacker Chad Greenway said he's never been on a team that's had officials at every practice.

"I think it's helped because you get a feel for what they're looking for, what's too much, what you can get away with, and then you can make adjustments," he said. "Plus, every time somebody jumps offside or there's encroachment on defense, a flag gets thrown. That's a little more than just a coach saying, 'Oh, start the play over again'. It means something more, so it seems like we're getting better as we go along with this."

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