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.


Posts about Ryan Longwell

Chris Cook eager to face Rodgers

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 26, 2012 - 3:56 PM

Chris Cook is looking for redemption Sunday when the Vikings meet the Packers.

The Vikings’ third year cornerback was torched during his rookie season by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Cook, coming off early season arthroscopic surgery on both knees, was pulled by coach Brad Childress after Rodgers lit up the visiting Vikings for 166 passing yards in the first quarter of a 28-24 victory on Oct. 24, 2010.

Things got worse six weeks later when the Packers beat the Vikings 31-3 at the Metrodome. Cook gave up receptions of 47 and 39 yards to James Jones, and was pulled by Childress after Jones caught a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Cook was yelled at by teammate Ray Edwards on the sideline, and after the game both Cook and cornerback Asher Allen were criticized by teammates.

Childress was fired the next day.

Cook missed both meetings last season after an arrest for domestic assault on the eve of the first Packers game, which he spent in jail. He was inactive for the rest of the season, and missed the Vikings’ 23-14 loss to the Packers two weeks ago because of a broken arm.

“I’ve been looking forward to this game,” Cook said. “My rookie year, I was coming off both my knee surgeries, and they were picking on me – a lot. I expected that coming off two knee surgeries. But I don’t have knee problems now, so we’ll see how it goes this week.”

Cook said Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL.

“He’s Brett Favre-like, but I feel he makes better decisions at times,” said Cook. “He’s crazy accurate, that’s the thing that stands out. He can put balls in places the other guys can’t put it in. It’s amazing to me to me. Every time I watch him I think, man, this guy, he’s great.”

Holiday presents

Houston running back Arian Foster bought Segways for his offensive linemen, so the question about what Adrian Peterson will do for his offensive line has been bandied about at Winter Park.

“We’ll see how it all plays out, how many yards he gets, when we win the game,” said center John Sullivan. “All I’m hoping for is a good performance from him and our offense and our entire team. The playoff berth is all we reaIly care about. I don’t really care about presents. I’m not too focused on that right now.”

Robison, Winfield ready

Defensive end Brian Robison (sprained shoulder) missed the Vikings’ 23-6 victory over the Texans on Sunday, which was doubly troubling to him because he played college football at Texas. He expects to play Sunday against the Packers.

“I’m doing much better, doing a lot of stuff hard in the rehab room, just trying to get it back,” Robison said. “I feel like I got a good range of motion, it’s just getting the strength back in it.”

Cornerback Antoine Winfield, who fractured a bone in his right index finger, expects to play Sunday with his right hand padded.

Reliable rookie

The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced tonight, and Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh has an outside chance of making the NFC team. Walsh has an NFL record nine field goals of 50 yards or longer.

“It’s one of those things where it happens, it’s awesome, if it doesn’t happen, keep on pushing,” Walsh said. “I’m more focused on what I have to do in practice. Accolades are great and all, but this game is more important.”

After a poor senior season at Georgia, it was a bit of a surprise when the Walsh was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round. He has made 32 of 35 field goal attempts, however, and all 32 conversion attempts.

“I knew I was capable of doing it from the start,” Walsh said. “The biggest surprise is the number of attempts we’ve gotten. Thirty-five attempts is a lot. It’s a different beast at this level, each kick is so important, it matters so much when the game is so close.”

Veteran Ryan Longwell, who was cut to make room for Walsh, tweeted his support for Walsh’s Pro Bowl candidacy on Sunday.

“It was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had said about me by anyone,” Walsh said. “My response was 100 percent truthful -- guys like him have set the bar for other kickers who come in the league, and they hold us to a higher standards, and we try to emulate careers like his.”

Ford added

The Vikings signed tight end Chase Ford to their practice squad. Ford, a rookie from Miami, has been on both the Philadelphia and Dallas practice squads this season. Tight end Allen Reisner, who has been on and off the Vikings’ roster the past two years, was claimed by Jacksonville after the Vikings cut him on Saturday. The Jaguars also signed guard Mark Asper, who had been waived by the Vikings.

 

 

Packers game a turning point; Winfield has broken hand

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: December 24, 2012 - 3:07 PM

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier can point to the moment he felt his team coming together, the game in which he felt everybody arriving on the same page, the day he felt the Vikings were becoming a cohesive team.

Interestingly, it did not come in a victory.

With a win-and-in game with Green Bay at Mall of America Field fast approaching, Frazier pointed to the Vikings loss in Green Bay Dec. 2 as that vital moment.

Really? A game in which the Vikings lost in large part because of two Red Zone interceptions by quarterback Christian Ponder?

Yes.

“That game helped us in some ways,” Frazier said at his Monday press conference. “We found out a lot about ourselves on the road and I told our players after that game that I thought that, more than any point in our season, we had played as a team. I really felt like we were coming together at the right time. I’m sure when they heard me say that they were like, ‘What’s he talking about? We just lost to our rivals on the road.’ But I saw something in our team in that game that made me believe we had a chance to really take off.”

The Vikings have not list since that day, winning three straight, including road wins at St. Louis Dec. 16 and the big upset in Houston Sunday.

“Green Bay the first time was sort of like, ‘Wow, we’re really good, we’ve just got to figure out how to navigate those last two quarters and find a way to get a tough win,’ ‘’ linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I think these last two road games for us have been an indication that maybe we’re starting to figure out how to play together for four quarters and put it all out there. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get a win this weekend just because that happens. It just means that, hopefully, we can remain consistent, keep doing that. And realize that when we play our kind of football and don’t make mistakes, that we’re pretty good.”

That Green Bay game was also the point at which it became clear what had to happen over the final quarter of the season for the Vikings to make the playoffs.  Namely, win. That was the week that both defensive end Jared Allen and owner Zygi Wilf talked with the team. Their message was simple: The team had to win the final four games.

“We kind of knew where things were and how important this final month of the season would be,” Frazier said. “But then you’ve still got to go out and play well. You have to prepare properly. And to our players’ credit and our coaches, they’ve done a great job of doing just that.”

 Injury update

A magnetic resonance imaging test done Monday morning showed that cornerback Antoine Winfield finished Sunday’s game with a small hand fracture. He was able to finish the game and is expected to play Sunday with a soft cast on the hand.

The Vikings hope defensive end Brian Robison, who missed Sunday’s game with a sprained right shoulder, will be available this week. “We’ll have to take it day-to-day with him,” Frazier said, “just to see what he’s able to do when he gets back to practice Wednesday.”  Robison did some things in practice Friday, but was still in too much pain to play against Houston.  “We weren’t sure if he’d be able to go out and protect himself,” Frazier said of the decision to sit Robison. “He needs to be able to tackle someone or, if someone is pushing up against him, he can protect himself. If he can do that, then he’ll be ready to go.”

Meanwhile, running back Adrian Peterson is still experiencing soreness with his abdominal issue and could be limited this week.

 

Stepping up

For the first nine games, rookie receiver Jarius Wright was inactive. In the last six games he has caught 19 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Sunday in Houston he had five catches. Three of those plays resulted in first downs for the Vikings. Monday Frazier talked about the strides Wright has taken.

“He’s just taken off as he’s gotten more confident with what he’s doing and what we’re asking him to do,” Frazier said. “The game he had yesterday was a big-time game. He ran good routes, got yards after the catch for us. He’s a young guy we have high hopes for.”

 

 Schedule almost set

The Vikings’ final two opponents for 2013 will be set following Sunday’s game.

They will play each team in the NFC East and AFC North next season.

The Vikings’ home games will be against Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, the NFC South team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently New Orleans), Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago.  The Sept. 29 game in London against Pittsburgh also counts as a home game.

Road games will be at Dallas, the N.Y Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the NFC West team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently Seattle), Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago.

 

Longwell logs in

Former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell broke his Twitter silence Sunday afternoon to laud his replacement, Blair Walsh. Longwell, who was bothered by never making the Pro Bowl, clearly thinks Walsh should be the NFC kicker as a rookie.  His series of tweets read: "I've purposely not commented on any football stuff this entire year so let me make my first one now. I've seen many great seasons go unrewarded by not getting voted to Pro Bowl. But if @BlairWalsh3 does not get voted in this year it will prove system is broke! What more can the guy do?? Accuracy, 9-9 50+ yarders, Kickoff touchbacks and a game winner in his first career game!!"

Walsh is third in the NFC with 128 points, second in field goal percentage (behind Dallas’ Dan Bailey) and set an NFL record with his ninth field goal of 50 yards or more on Sunday.

 

 

Vikings' 2013 opponents nearly set

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: December 24, 2012 - 1:55 PM

The Vikings’ final two opponents for 2013 will be set following Sunday’s game.

They will play each team in the NFC East and AFC North next season.

The Vikings’ home games will be against Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, the NFC South team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently New Orleans), Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago. The Sept. 29 game in London against Pittsburgh also counts as a home game.

Road games will be at Dallas, the N.Y Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati, the NFC West team that finishes in the same position as the Vikings (currently Seattle), Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago.

Longwell kicks in
Former Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell broke his Twitter silence Sunday afternoon to laud his replacement, Blair Walsh. Longwell, who was bothered by never making the Pro Bowl, clearly thinks Walsh should be the NFC kicker as a rookie.

His series of tweets read: "I've purposely not commented on any football stuff this entire year so let me make my first one now. I've seen many great seasons go unrewarded by not getting voted to Pro Bowl. But if @BlairWalsh3 does not get voted in this year it will prove system is broke! What more can the guy do?? Accuracy, 9-9 50+ yarders, Kickoff touchbacks and a game winner in his first career game!!"

Walsh is third in the NFC with 128 points, second in field goal percentage (behind Dallas’ Dan Bailey) and set an NFL record with his ninth field goal of 50 yards or more on Sunday.




 

Walsh wins NFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: December 19, 2012 - 11:21 AM

And you thought Blair Walsh and Randy Moss didn't have anything in common ...

Multiple winners of an NFC player of the week award:

BLAIR WALSH WINS NFC SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS
 
Eden Prairie, MN(December 19, 2012)Vikings rookie K Blair Walsh has been named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week for his Week 15 performance against the St. Louis Rams. The 6th-round draft pick from Georgia connected on all 5 of his field goals attempts including 3 from 50+ yards. During the 36-22 victory, Walsh was true from 50, 38, 42, 53 and 51 yards. His 3 50+ yard FGs tied an NFL record for most 50+ yard FGs in one game and also set a Vikings record. On the season, Walsh is 8-8 on 50+ yard FGs which is a Vikings record and ties an NFL record.
 
Walsh joins Adrian Peterson and Randy Moss as the only rookies in Vikings history to win the Player of the Week Award multiple times in their first NFL season. His first award came after his Week 1 performance against Jacksonville. The 175th player selected in the 2012 NFL Draft is having a banner year for the Vikings. He currently holds the Vikings’ rookie scoring record with 117 points after passing Randy Moss’ 106 points in 1998. His 47 touchbacks are a franchise high and ranks 4th in the NFL. On the season, Walsh is 29-32 on FGs and 28-28 on extra points.
 
Other Vikings kickers to win the award are: Fuad Reveiz (2x), Gary Anderson (4x), Eddie Murray and Ryan Longwell (2x).

Chat OT: Secondary strides, Ponder's growth, Walsh's weaponry

Posted by: Updated: October 3, 2012 - 8:29 AM
If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers from our brilliant chat audience.
Question 1: It was nice to see the Vikings beat a pass-happy team like the Lions. Moving forward, we'll need more plays from our secondary in order to compete with the Brandon Marshalls, Andre Johnsons and Greg Jennings of the world. Do we stand a chance in a shoot-out with these teams? Can our young secondary keep it up?
Well, first things first. While the Vikings will play a lot of very good receivers over the final 12 weeks, none will be more talented or more explosive than the guy who wears number 81 for the Lions. So imagine just what kind of confidence builder it was for this young defense and this once-awful secondary to have the success they had against Calvin Johnson. Again, success against Megatron is relative. He still had five catches for 54 yards and drew three penalties for 75 yards. That’s a 129-yard day for Calvin and yet the Vikings were thrilled he never exploded the way he’s capable of exploding.
Same goes for Stafford, who really never seemed to be put much stress on the Vikings’ defense. The Vikings schemed to take away Johnson and made sure they didn’t get beat over the top. And Stafford had merely an average day. He didn’t throw a TD pass for just the third time in his career. And 13 of his 30 completions and 141 of his 319 passing yards came in the fourth quarter with the Vikings’ D in prevent mode.
Long story short: Fantastic day for the secondary with no play bigger than the hit Harrison Smith put on Johnson late in the first half that turned a certain Lions touchdown into an incompletion. Smith had another clutch pass break-up on Johnson on a deep ball in the third quarter too. So now we’ll see whether the Vikings can replicate their effort against Johnson when they run across Marshall (Weeks 12 and 14), Andre Johnson (Week 16) and Greg Jennings (Weeks 13 and 17).
Question 2: Why is Ponder being called a game manager by so many people? He brought the Vikings back for the win against Jacksonville. He rallied them from 14 points down to tie the game against the Colts. He threw two touchdowns and ran for another against the 49ers. For everyone that wants him to take more shots down the field, who do they want him to throw to? Jerome Simpson is a nice player, but is certainly not a top tier receiver.
Question 3: Surprised by all these questions about whether Ponder has the ability or willingness to throw deep. Seems fans don't remember him putting up 380 yards last year against a very good Denver defense. I don't get it. If he were to force the issue, there would be interceptions and people telling him he needs to play smarter. Guy can't win, I guess. What do you think?
Question 4: what kind of QB do you see Ponder being at the end of the season, if he stays healthy?
Welcome to the NFL, where if you’re a head coach, a quarterback or an offensive coordinator, you’re almost always going to have people begging non-stop for you to do exactly the opposite of what you’re currently doing. Thankless roles, really. And that’s it with Ponder right now.
So many fans want him to join the fireworks show that we see with passing attacks around the NFL. Outsiders want him to put up X-box numbers like Brees and Rodgers and Stafford and Eli. But if he were to start throwing long consistently and then turned the ball over a bunch, critics would wonder why he was taking so many foolish chances.
As I’ve said repeatedly since April, the Vikings want Ponder to make his biggest strides in 2012 with his decision making. He needs to avoid sacks that kill drives. He needs to eliminate bad interceptions. Think of all the costly turnovers he had a year ago. Just off the top of my head, I remember two terrible interceptions against Denver – one a pick six and another deep in his own territory in a tie game in the final 2 minutes. There was also a fumble lost for a TD and another pick six in Detroit. There was a pick six against Chicago in the season finale. And at the end of the year the Vikings were left blathering on and on about how frustrating it was to lose so many close games. Well, guess what? The elimination of untimely turnovers turns those heartbreaking losses into encouraging wins.
A few days after Ponder’s solid day against the Niners, Bill Musgrave was asked if that was the most complete game the young QB had played. Musgrave referenced the positive things Ponder had shown in rookie home starts against Green Bay and Denver in 2011 but then issued the reminder that turnovers in those games helped trigger losses.
So here’s what Musgrave then said: “The quickest way to lose in this league or at any level is to beat yourself and last year, we did some good things but we had some untimely mistakes that caused it to be really tough for us to get the outcome that we want. And we want to keep playing at a high level. But number one, we don’t want to beat ourselves.”
Whether you like it or not, this is the directive. This is how Ponder’s Year 2 success will be measured. So far, so good. And so at the end of the year, based on what he’s shown to date, I expect Ponder to continue evolving and getting better while still being smart and cautious as much as possible.
Question 5: Who deserves the credit for the punt return touchdown: Marcus Sherels, for breaking about six tackles and getting to the sidelines, or the Vikings' special teams, for forming a massive wedge around him?
Don’t forget about the poor tackling shown by the Lions’ special teams. The punt coverage unit probably had three fairly easy chances to take Sherels down and failed, starting with Kassim Osgood who got to Sherels right as he fielded the punt. Erik Coleman and Don Muhlbach also blew chances to tackle Sherels and the Vikings’ return unit turned several impressive blocks. Brandon Burton and Josh Robinson were solid in gunner control along the sideline. Rhett Ellison delivered a solid block. Matt Asiata drilled punter Nick Harris. And Sherels was left to do the cutting and weaving to get to the left sideline. The craziest thing to see on that return was when Sherels got outside and reached the 30 yard line or so, he had a wall of teammates – Burton, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean and Devin Aromashodu – escorting him to the end zone.
Question 6: Any idea why Walsh missed that last attempted FG? Was it a bad snap? He had been so consistent up until then.
I’ve watched it a half-dozen times now. And to my naked eye, I can’t quite detect for certain what went wrong there. Snap and hold looked pretty good. Seemed like Walsh just yanked the kick. Hey, nobody’s perfect right. Walsh makes that kick and all of a sudden he’s a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals against Detroit and a perfect 10-for-10 on the season. Plus all five of his kickoffs against Detroit went for touchbacks.
Think about this: last season Ryan Longwell produced 19 touchbacks in 78 kickoffs. In September of his rookie year, Walsh produced 12 touchbacks on 20 kickoffs and his average of 70.2 yards per kickoff leads the NFL. That’s a big-time weapon to have.
Lastly, on a side note, I needed a place to bring this up. On the third-and-6 play before Walsh missed his 46-yard kick in the fourth quarter, Ponder panicked and wasted an opportunity to keep what could have been a game-sealing drive alive. Out of the shotgun, Ponder felt pressure when cornerback Jacob Lacey frazzled left tackle Matt Kalil a bit on a blitz. Linebacker Justin Durant also got good push on Phil Loadholt. Yet Ponder was so locked in on Kyle Rudolph from the snap that he never saw how open the left side of the field was. Had he turned his eyes only a fraction of the way to his left, the entire left side of the field was open. He had Percy Harvin wide open and maybe could have run for the first down as well. Instead, he retreated a full 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a stressed roll to his right and never really had a chance to complete the bullet he threw toward Rudolph. No, Ponder didn’t take a sack nor throw a bad interception. So that’s commendable. But it sure looked like he needs to progress better with his vision there.
Question 7: Has anyone ever done an analysis of fundamentally sound football versus having better skills players? Can a case be made that intelligent, fundamentally sound play is more important than having better skill players?
I know of no study or in-depth analysis that has been done to differentiate the value of having superb talent versus having fundamentally sound play. But I can tell you that this is the grand experiment being conducted at Winter Park under Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman.
That is not to say that the Vikings are averse to having very talented football players on their team. Look at the current roster and all the talent – from Peterson to Jared Allen to Harvin to Greenway to Kevin Williams to Winfield to Matt Kalil … I could go on and on. That’s a ton of premier talent.
But here’s the deal going forward: Frazier and Spielman are really, really trying to find intelligent and disciplined football players who are not only fundamentally sound but also are incredibly dedicated to getting better. Again, it sounds obvious. But sometimes it’s those guys who put forth more time and investment into mastering their roles that spark the big NFL run faster than the guys with all the talent and athleticism but without the super savvy and work ethic.
So this is the Frazier-Spielman vision – to catalyze their rebuilding effort with good players who won’t make costly mental mistakes and who are dedicated enough to study more and dial in every week. They believe and I agree that that kind of thing becomes contagious. And it’s at least one small reason they’re off to this 3-1 start.

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