Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
ARLINGTON, TEXAS -- Matt Cassel will serve as the Vikings backup quarterback today, not Josh Freeman.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier declined to announce his backup on Friday after officially naming Christian Ponder the starter for today's game against the Cowboys.
But Freeman's name is on the inactive list. That pretty follows the quarterback rotation that the Vikings used in practice this week during individual drills: Ponder, Cassel and Freeman.
The other inactives are cornerback Chris Cook, safety Jamarca Sanford, nose tackle Fred Evans, offensive guard Jeff Baca, running back Matt Asiata and tight end Rhett Ellison.
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, we asked Jean-Jacques Taylor, who works for ESPNDallas.com and spent 11 seasons covering the Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006, five questions on the matchup. Here’s what he had to say…
Q: You were in Detroit on Sunday when the Cowboys lost to the Lions despite having a plus-four turnover differential … what caused the Cowboys’ collapse Sunday?
Taylor: Basically they couldn’t run the ball to close the game down at the end. They had the ball twice with three minutes and couldn’t run it out and put up enough time. The whole game changed when they had the holding call on third down when they tried to run out the clock (before Dan Bailey’s 44-yard field goal to give the Cowboys a 30-24 lead with 1:02 left). That’s because you had a young guy (running back Phillip Tanner) who was supposed to go up the middle and take whatever was there and fall down. He bounced it outside, got a holding call that stopped the clock. Without the holding call, Detroit gets the ball down six at their 20 with about 30 seconds left, and they’re going 80 yards in 30 seconds.
Q: Running back DeMarco Murray has practiced the past two weeks. Will he play Sunday?
Taylor: It’s too early to say. I would expect him to, but he only thought he was going to play last week and he didn’t. (Murray sprained his MCL in his left knee against the Redskins on Oct. 13 and did not play against the Lions).
Q: Is Murray’s absence the biggest issue with the run game?
Taylor: They’re just not a good running team. They haven’t been a good running team all year. It’s not surprising that they couldn’t close it out. They’re not a team that runs the ball very much, they’re not a team that runs it well. Since Murray’s been out, they’ve had two runs of 10 yards or more in 48 carries. Murray has 11 in 91 (carries) by himself. He makes a difference, but they’re not a good running team however you slice it or dice it.
Q: The Cowboys are pretty thin on the defensive line. How have they held up against the run and bring pressure?
Taylor: They’re an awful defense, and we all know this so it’s not a big deal. They’re an awful defense because the injuries have compromised them. All they can give you are turnovers and red zone defense. When you’re looking at the Cowboys defense, you have to ignore the yards because they’re going to give up a ton of yards. But they got 19 turnovers, they only had 16 all of last year. When they can hold you to field goals inside the red zone, they’ve done their job. They play really hard, and they’ll play as hard as anyone in the league. That compensates for some of their flaws. And against a bad offense like Minnesota, they’ll have some success because they’ll out-effort the Vikings. But when they play a good team, and a good offense and a good quarterback, they’re at that team’s mercy. But luckily for them, Minnesota’s got a bad quarterback and a bad offense. So they’ll probably do a good job this week.
Q: Aren’t turnovers and a “bend, but don’t break” defense what head coach Jason Garrett wanted?
Taylor: Nobody wants to be the first team in the NFL to give up four 400-yard passers, and nobody wants to be on pace to give up 6,000 yards. But injuries have compromised them. It’s not an excuse, it’s just what it is. When you’ve got your two starting players with the game on the line last week on the final drive were a couple of undrafted free agents -- one from Grand Valley State (defensive back Brandon Carr) and one from South Carolina State (defensive back Jakar Hamilton) -- I don’t think that was the plan going into the season.
Taylor’s prediction: Cowboys 23, Vikings 13
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil will play Monday night against the New York Giants after being listed as questionable because of back tightness.
Kalil missed two days of practice last week after experiencing some tightness in his back. He told reporters on Saturday that he had made progress and was optimistic he would be able to play.
The most notable inactive was Matt Cassel, who went from starting quarterback the previous two games to No. 3 on the depth chart this week, behind Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder.
The other inactives for the Vikings are cornerback A.J. Jefferson, wide receiver Rodney Smith, linebacker Gerald Hodges, offensive guard Jeff Baca, defensive tackle Chase Baker and defensive end Justin Trattou.
For the Giants, running back Brandon Jacobs is inactive because of a hamstring injury. The Giants' second-leading rusher, David Wilson, also is out because of a neck injury. That leaves veteran Peyton Hillis, who signed with the Giants this past week.
NEW YORK -- The Vikings and New York Giants are a combined 1-10, but Josh Freeman's debut brings an element of intrigue to this Monday Night Football matchup.
As I wrote about for Sunday, Freeman has endured a hectic few weeks as he attempts to resurrect his career.
The Vikings have condensed the playbook for Freeman so that he can learn the offense on the fly. Freeman already had a pretty good grasp of the pass concepts of this system from his college days, but the biggest challenge, he said, is learning new terminology.
“In football, you only have 11 guys and there’s only so much you can do," he said. "But just being able to go into the huddle with confidence and call the play, look over the line of scrimmage with confidence, know what I’m keying off of, understanding the fronts, protections, just kind of bringing it all in for one play. I think that this coaching staff obviously had a plan, a plan as far as, ‘Alright, this is what we’re going to do. We want you to just forget all the other stuff and focus on this exact thing,’ and it’s been really, really good."
Freeman said he's also leaned on his teammates for help. For instance, his wide receivers have let him know how they run certain routes.
"It’s different people stepping up," he said. "It’s the guys on the O-line, Sully (John Sullivan), the wide receivers, talking with Greg (Jennings), talking with Jerome (Simpson). Those guys have a lot of input and insight. Talking to Adrian (Peterson) about different run themes, and talking just with my teammates getting a feel for how they like to do things around here, different scenarios, guys’ strengths, weaknesses because, to be honest, with only one week of practice with guys, it’s hard to really develop the kind of chemistry you’d like to have midway through a season.
"To compensate for that, guys have kind of taken it on themselves to really spend time with me. Kyle Rudolph, a guy that’s an unbelievable tight end, talking with him about his route likes and dislikes and finding ways to get him the ball. Last but not least is the quarterback room. Matt (Cassel) and Christian (Ponder) are constantly giving me advice, telling me about nuances within the offense that could pay dividends in the long stretch."
Kickoff is set for 7:40 p.m. central time.
Today was a travel day for the Vikings, so no media access.
There are some major injury questions for the team on Monday as it gets ready for its game against the Giants (7:40 p.m., ESPN and Ch. 4) in the Meadowlands.
First, safety Harrison Smith is definitely out because of turf toe. Could be a season ending injury, but the Vikings hope after a few weeks of rest he could return to the lineup. Surgery, says coach Leslie Frazier, would mean 4-6 months of recovery. Andrew Sendejo is in for Smith.
Second, Adrian Peterson has a hamstring issue. The Vikings expect him to play – he practiced Saturday – but hamstring issues tend to linger. So that’s a concern.
Third, left tackle Matt Kalil, who by his own admission isn’t playing up to Pro Bowl standards, had tightness in his back late in the week. If Kalil can’t play, ex-Bear J’Marcus Webb is likely to step in.
Cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle) is out.
Kicker Blair Walsh has a hamstring pull in his left (non-kicking) leg and that likely means punter Jeff Locke will handle kickoff duties, as he did last week against Carolina.
Interesting that receiver Rodney Smith made the 53-man roster and now has hip problems. He won’t be active Monday night, Frazier said.
Jacob Lacey will be active at cornerback with Jefferson out. Lacey had a knee injury in training camp and arthoscopic surgery, then was cut, but he’s back now to replace Smith on the roster and will be thrown into the action.
“He’s recovered from his knee,” Frazier said. “I don’t see much residual effect from the surgery that he had. We’re probably going to have to activate him for this ballgame with A.J. being down. The good thing is he has some familiarity with what we’re doing on defense, so that helps a lot. But he’ll be up and going this weekend.”
The play of the secondary could be key against Eli Manning, who has 15 interceptions this year, but is a two-time Super Bowl winner. Smith has been the team’s best defensive back, and with Sendejo stepping in, and Lacey forced into action, Manning could have a big game.
Frazier has gone out of his way to defend cornerback Josh Robinson, who appears to have struggled. On Saturday, Frazier said: “When you’re playing in the secondary and having some ups and downs, you’ve just got to keep battling and we just keep encouraging him. He’s going to get better. He’s doing some things better than he was when we first put him at this position. It’s a challenging position playing inside against some very good receivers and it’s not always man and it’s not always zone. Just got to keep bringing him along and he’s going to get better and our defense will get better as he gets better. This is part of the maturation of having young guys playing in the secondary but he’s a good football player, just got to keep putting him out there and keep giving him opportunities to get better.”
Veteran defensive linemen Jared Allen (ankle) and Kevin Williams (knee) were limited in practice Saturday, but should be good to go against the Giants.
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