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.


Opportunity calls the Vikings

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under Vikings, Bears, Lions, NFC, Packers, Super Bowl, Vikings defense, Vikings offense, Vikings players, Chris Kluwe, Jared Allen, John Sullivan, Percy Harvin Updated: November 19, 2012 - 2:18 PM


it has become very fashionable to talk about the difficulty of the Vikings’ upcoming schedule. Minnesota’s game at Chicago Sunday is the first of three straight games in the NFC North Division. In all, the Vikings play the Bears and Green Bay Packers twice each in the next six games.

But defensive end Jared Allen doesn’t see it quite that way. He sees a great opportunity.

“That’s been our focus,” he said. “And coach {Leslie} Frazier harps on it. We are in position to control our own destiny. And that’s all you can ask for. Right now we’re 2-0 in our division, which is phenomenal. And we have our division coming up, three straight division games that could very well determine where we’re sitting.”

Allen has a colorful way of characterizing game. In the days before the Vikings’ victory over Detroit before the bye, Allen didn’t call it a must-win game, but he did label it better-win. So how about this one?

“It’s not a make-or-break game, but it’s a dang critical game for what we’re trying to get to,” he said. “We have six games to get as many wins as we can get to get us in the playoffs. And it starts with Chicago. This game is as big as it gets this week. Might as well be the Super Bowl for this week. Then we’ll move on to next week.

“ “We have to go up there and we have to be right. We have the advantage of coming off a bye, so everybody should be fresh. And hopefully everybody’s mind is focused.”

 

Allen, Part II

The bye came at a good time for Allen, who had struggled with a groin pull in the weeks leading up to the break. He said he’s feeling better, but still isn’t 100 percent.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Not even close. I’m probably 75 {percent}. But you just work through it. Nobody is 100 percent this time of year.”

That said, Allen said the break helped.

“Just trying to stay fresh, do some things to try to numb the pain for the rest of the season.”

 

Improvement needed

While the players had some time off, the coaches spent much of the bye doing some self-scouting. So what conclusions were reached for the offense?

“They talked about what we needed to work on, and the big thing is our turnover differential,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “And our Red Zone. Those are two things that we’ve got to work on, especially with our schedule stacked up.”

And what is the key to improvement in those areas? Execution of course. “We've just got to keep working on it and finding ways to make it happen,” Ponder said. “When we look back at the film and what we did wrong, it just goes back to execution and getting through my reads quicker and being able to check the ball down and not forcing things outside.”

The victory over the Lions before the bye did a lot for the team’s confidence. It also showed everyone – especially Ponder – that the offense could be productive without an injured Percy Harvin in the lineup.

We really want Percy back and hopefully he will be back,” Ponder said. “Obviously we know he’s a big part of this offense. But I think it gives confidence to everyone else that we can do some things without him and we can spread the ball around a little bit.”

 

 Alma Mater matters

Coming out of the bye weekend, with a huge stretch of games coming up, it should be no surprise that the focus of some conversation in the Vikings’ locker room Sunday centered around ... college football.

Where to start?

How about Matt Kalil? The former USC star had a bet with Chris Kluwe (the UCLA alum) about last Saturday’s game between the two schools. Apparently, the wager had to do with pushups to be done in the middle of the practice field after the game. According to Kluwe’s tweets, Kalil was a no-show after UCLA upset the Trojans. In his singular style Kluwe asked his followers for suggestions on how to deal with Kalil, saying he might have Kalil sing the UCLA fight song in a video….while wearing a cheerleader outfit.

All in good fun, right?

“I couldn’t get on the field, first of all,” Kalil said. “So I guess he said I bailed out. Maybe we’ll bargain for something else.”

That said, Kalil was ready to jump in again, predicting that USC – which will play without injured quarterback Matt Barkley – would upset Notre Dame this weekend.

“USC will win, I would say, 28-14,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the plethora of Notre Damers in the Vikings locker room felt differently.

“I’d like to see Notre Dame win, 21-14,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said.

Said John Sullivan: “They probably won’t score on us, to be honest. It hurts them Barkley is out. I’m not going to guarantee anything; sports are too fickle.”

One more college note: Last week Toby Gerhart was asked by Stanford to be an honorary captain for the Cardinal game at Oregon. Because of a prior commitment, Gerhart couldn’t go. After watching Stanford upset the Ducks in overtime, he rues that decision.

“Man it would have been fun to be there,” he said. “It was awesome.”

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