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.
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 go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion.
Here we go …
Question 1: Will the Vikings make a run at a big name free agent wide receiver this offseason?
I’ll answer that question with two questions. Number one: how many “big name” wide receivers do you expect will really be out there? Number two: Do you want Percy Harvin around for a long time to come?
Let’s get the outlandish big-name guys out of the way first. No, Randy Moss isn’t coming back. And no, Victor Cruz, who will be a restricted free agent, won’t be getting out of New York either.
So that takes us to a franchise-tagged big name. New England’s Wes Welker? Not coming here.
Over the next three-and-a-half months, three biggest names that will likely be thrown around often by fans as possible Viking targets might be Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings.
Wallace fits the need for a vertical threat, an outside playmaker who can be electric when he’s dialed in. Bowe wants out of Kansas City in the worst way and has a chance to post his fourth career 1,000-yard season with a strong finish. And Jennings’ days in Green Bay are likely over in big part because, well, Aaron Rodgers can get along just fine with the other receivers he has – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones.
So Jennings will almost certainly hit the open market in March. And he’ll have to convince interested teams that he’s not suddenly injury prone. (A knee sprain limited him late last season and a sports hernia has kept him out of the Packers’ past seven games.)
But the biggest thing Vikings fans have to consider as they weigh the team’s free agent options at receiver is that if there is a strong urge to keep Harvin around for the long haul – and that priority seems to be there – the major need of negotiating Harvin’s contract extension will take precedent.
Locking Harvin into a long-term deal will cost a pretty penny and it’s quite rare that an organization will dish out huge money to two players at the same position, thus restricting them from making a big splash at other positions.
So realistically, if getting an extension done with Harvin is a top priority, the Vikings may either have to look at second-tier free agent receivers or the use draft to bolster that position.
Here are some names …
Free agents who might be worth a realistic look: Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson.
Receivers who might be worth a look in the first three rounds of the draft in April: Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Southern Cal’s Robert Woods, Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins. (Hunter, Woods and Hopkins are all underclassmen.)
Question 2: When Mistral Raymond returned that fumble for an apparent touchdown Sunday in Chicago, the whistle did not blow. Yet the replay officials overturned the fumble on a replay review, taking away seven points from the Vikings. But in the Thanksgiving day game in Detroit, a similar play took place, but the call was not overturned because the whistle did not blow even though the Houston player's knee was down. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought if the whistle is not blown, the play is live and the call cannot be overturned. No?
No. Not correct.
The Lions were victimized by a strange technicality. You’re right that the whistle didn’t blow on Justin Forsett’s 81-yard TD run, even though his knee and elbow were both down. But the play was ultimately classified as unreviewable because Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw his challenge flag to request a replay review on a play he can’t request a review for.
This season, by rule, all scoring plays are automatically reviewed upstairs. Unless, of course, an outraged coach throws an unnecessary challenge flag, which the NFL rules inexplicably state aborts the option for review. So Detroit not only couldn’t get a brutal officiating mistake rectified, they were also given a 15-yard penalty for Schwartz’s thrown red flag.
In the Vikings’ case, Raymond’s touchdown was indeed reviewed. And officials ultimately determined Matt Forte’s knee was on the ground by the time he lost control of the football. So, by that ruling, it wasn’t a fumble by and so Raymond’s return was negated.
Confused? You should be. Blame the NFL’s nonsensical rule book for creating so much chaos in that Lions-Texans game.
Question 3: I hear so much about Brandon Fusco being a weak link on the offensive line. But given that Rick Spielman and Leslie Frazier seem to be somewhat rational, surely Fusco must do something good. What is it?
When he’s playing with an edge and playing with confidence, Fusco can be a mauler in the run game. He’s got decent quickness and stays on his blocks. But there have been too many times this year when he’s seemed confused and overwhelmed. Remember, this is a guy who has made all of 11 NFL starts after playing his college career at Division II Slippery Rock. So the adjustment to the speed and intensity of this game can be steep.
I asked Frazier about Fusco’s struggles on Monday, a day after Geoff Schwartz got the majority of work at right guard against Chicago.
Here’s what Frazier said of what causes Fusco’s lapses: “It’s more the footwork and sometimes getting top heavy. [He’s] leaning a little bit too much one way or the other. And he’s just losing some of his fundamentals as an offensive guard. There are some things that technically he’ll get off on at times. And then it creates problems for our offense.
“When he’s on, he’s a very good player. But there are moments where he’s just a little bit off from a fundamental standpoint.”
Question 4: My sense is that because the Vikings record is better than most expected it to be at the beginning of the year, I hear praise for Coach Frazier from outside Viking land. However, fans don't seem to share this view and are increasingly upset with Frazier. What are the Frazier backers seeing that I don't? And what are us fans seeing that the others don't?
What the Frazier backers see is exactly what you have already noted. Through 11 games, the Vikings have been better than just about everyone expected. And the coach deserves some credit for that. Yes, there is still a lot of room for improvement with this squad. And even with a 6-5 record, the Vikings have many, many flaws. But Frazier has done a good job of putting this team in position for a rebound season. If they win two of their final five and finish at 8-8, I don’t see how this season could be considered anything less than a step in the right direction.
Frazier has a unique ability to connect with players. He was instrumental in mollifying Percy Harvin over the summer when Harvin’s discontent bubbled to the surface and led to a bizarre trade request. And Frazier has also done a good job of getting this team to focus on the little things each week while also retaining big-picture perspective.
Yes, he has his flaws. He struggles at times with clock management late in halves and late in games. And he may not always override some of Bill Musgrave’s run-pass play calls when it seems he should.
Plus, after such a disastrous loss like this last one in Chicago, it’s fair to question whether Frazier had his team prepared the way he should have going into a game that could have put the Vikings atop the NFC North.
But look at some of the early wins. The beatdown of San Francisco is most notable. The blowout of Tennessee and the two Detroit wins also had plenty of moments that proved the coaching staff’s ability to implement a strong game plan.
Frazier will likely never have universal support from the fan base. But he does have a vision that can be believed in and an ability to push a team forward through struggle.
So as for what disgruntled fans are seeing that the Frazier backers don’t? They see five losses – including four in the past games – and a team that has a bunch of obvious weaknesses. And with that in focus, it’s easy to lose perspective on how bad this team was a year ago and what the realistic turnaround time is.
Take a deep breath. Let some things play out. Remember what 2-9 felt like last year at this time. Things are moving in the right direction.
Question 5: Erin Henderson had what I thought was his worst game of the year Sunday. Do you feel he will be allowed to fade away into free agency next year?
Question 6: With all the guys who signed one-year deals last offseason, who should the Vikings want back next season?
The disconnect with the Henderson situation is that he views himself as having a much higher value than he really does. We saw that last March when he hit free agency and there weren’t any suitors willing to pay him what he felt he deserved.
The Vikings let the market establish itself, then brought him back for a one-year deal worth $1.45 million. Henderson took the one-year contract with hopes he’d have a big year in 2012 and cash in with a much more lucrative long-term deal. Somewhere. But he’s had an average season to date and will have to come to grips with what his price tag really is.
I’m not saying the Vikings won’t bring him back. After all, that’s a position that has very little depth for this team. And Jasper Brinkley and Marvin Mitchell will also be free agents in March. But there will have to be a reasonable agreement for that to work out.
As far as the other guys brought in on one-year deals, the most notable are: Jerome Simpson, Jerome Felton, Mitchell, Geoff Schwartz and Devin Aromashodu. Felton is the only one of that group who has had anywhere near a significant impact.
I would not be surprised if all the others were left to walk at season’s end.
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.
Question 1: Do you think any of the Vikings games against the Bears or Packers will be flexed into the late afternoon spot or onto “Football Night in America” on NBC?
Been getting this question more and more frequently as the Vikings’ win total has risen.
So here’s how we should proceed. First, take a second to digest the NFL’s flex scheduling parameters as noted below:
“The NFL will utilize ‘flexible scheduling’ on Sundays in Weeks 11-17. Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups in all NFL Sunday time slots in those weeks and give teams a chance to play their way onto prime time and into the late-afternoon 3:25 p.m. time slot on CBS and Fox. For each of the flexible scheduling weeks with the exception of Week 17, the NFL will announce the start times of games on Sundays no later than 12 days prior to that weekend. To ensure a Sunday night game and doubleheader games with playoff implications in Week 17, the flexible scheduling decision for that Sunday may be made on six days notice.”
So, given that we’re inside of 12 days and there’s been no change announced for the game in Chicago, that one comes off the table.
Now, here’s a look at the NBC showcase games for the Sunday nights on those weeks where the Vikings play the Packers (Weeks 13 and 17) and the Sunday they host the Bears (Week 14).
Before anything else, those Week 13 and 14 games have to be duds to warrant being moved. So it seems unlikely Eagles-Cowboys
or Texans-Patriots will be bumped.
[[[ CORRECTION UPDATE: The original post identified Texans at Patriots as the Sunday night game in Week 14. That's actually the Monday night game. The Week 14 NBC game is Lions at Packers. Which might not be firmly entrenched in that Sunday night slot after all. ]]]
As for the later afternoon Fox headline games …
Doubtful Fox will want to move their chance to showcase Peyton Manning. And Saints-Giants will probably still generate more interest that Vikings-Bears that week.
So that brings us to Week 17 where there’s an outside possibility that Vikings-Packers could bring Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth to town if both teams are still fighting for playoff bids. That seems to be the only way, the Vikings would get the flex treatment.
So, after all that, what I’m telling you is be prepared for nooners the rest of the way for the Vikings.
Question 2: Heard charges against Adrian Peterson were being dropped from his summer arrest because a grand jury didn’t find probable cause. Why was a grand jury used for such a minor incident? Also, you think will A.P. sue the Houston police?
The grand jury proceeding is quite rare for a misdemeanor charge. But that was a setup that Peterson’s attorney Rusty Hardin and the prosecution had agreed to as a means to measure the case’s validity.
I asked Hardin specifically about that odd use of the grand jury and why the prosecution didn’t just drop the charges on their own accord.
He offered an interesting potential explanation.
“The advantage to that approach is it doesn’t require the prosecutor to dismiss the case, which would basically say the police officers were lying,” Hardin said. “And we don’t know what goes into a grand jury’s deliberation. But here, you’d think it produces the same result potentially that a trial would without the prosecutor having to reject what the police officers have said. Instead, you present both sides of the case to 12 citizens and let them decide.”
The grand jury decided the charge against Peterson was unwarranted. And that’s that.
As far as any recourse Peterson might have, Hardin said he’d have until July 7, 2014 to file a civil suit, an option he could take if he wanted to pursue damages for defamation from the Houston police. But Hardin said that next step isn’t something he and Peterson would even begin discussing until after the Vikings’ season is over.
Question 3: It's probably unconventional but I thought the Vikings had some notable success rotating Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford at safety against Detroit. You get different things with both guys and they both contribute. Will Sanford keep the starting role at this point with Mistral continuing to split time?
Maybe the best thing to come out of the six games that Raymond missed with his dislocated right ankle was the realization that Sanford has improved significantly since last year and doesn’t seem to be a major weakness anymore. So going forward the Vikings have increased confidence that they have a guy who can be dependable back there in a pinch. In this case, the pinch lasted six games.
But in the big picture, as soon as Raymond has his conditioning back to full strength, the plan is for him to start and take pretty much all the reps alongside Harrison Smith at safety with Sanford being a nice Plan B and a major contributor on special teams. Whether Raymond can get his conditioning up in the next 10 days and supplant Sanford as the starter at Chicago remains to be seen. But that switch is coming.
Question 4: What is the reason behind Ponder’s up-and-down year? Is it his fault? The coaching staff? Lack of quality WRs and o-line? You would think with Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings could have more success in the passing game.
Question 5: The Lions game last weekend was the first game in at least a month where it looked like Mr. Ponder was willing to throw to receivers who were open, but where the defender was close. He finally seemed to have confidence in his ability to throw the ball. Where did that confidence go and why did it come back? And more importantly, how can he hold onto it?
Man, that’s a lot of Ponder questions. First things first, the up-and-down year is easily explained. Ponder is 24 years old and he’s made 20 NFL starts. Find me another young quarterback with fewer than two dozen starts who isn’t still inconsistent and facing a steep learning curve.
As far as making throws with defenders nearby in coverage, that’s something Leslie Frazier, Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson reminded Ponder he had to do to be successful.
First, Johnson told him not to worry so much about the consequences of every throw. Then, Frazier made it clear that successful NFL quarterbacks create their own success by occasionally throwing into tight windows. You’re right that Ponder seemed to do more of that against Detroit. And for the Vikings, it was encouraging that those throws were pretty successful overall.
One last thing on Ponder, as I had a very interesting discussion with Johnson before the Seahawks game. As sharp as he is as a student of the game, able to pick things up in the classroom and absorb all of the concepts and teachings thrown at him, he still needs to go through the experiences on this level of seeing things, feeling things and reacting.
As it relates to getting blitzed, Johnson noticed Ponder’s unease in the Tampa Bay game when the Bucs just kept coming and coming and threw every different pressure look they had at the Vikings. And here was a little bit of how he explained to me one of the next big steps in Ponder’s development:
“You have to get used to the pressure. How’s my protection? Am I in the right protection to be able to block the blitzes? If I am in the right protection, do I lose check-down options because the guys, for instance, my backs and my tight ends may be involved in protection? Well I may be protected, but now we’re getting fewer guys out. So where now are the holes in the defense? That’s the process he’s going through right now. He can figure out if they don’t blitz and we get everybody out. He can figure out if they blitz me and I have a chance to throw hot. That’s all beautiful. But now what happens if I lose backs and I lose tight ends and lose whoever in protection, now I don’t have those check-down options and they’re still blitzing me, where am I able to go with the football? That’s advanced chemistry for quarterback play. But that’s what Christian is going through right now.
“This is a no mercy league. And teams are going to keep dialing stuff up until they see you can solve it. That’s the way it is. He’s going to keep pushing. And we as coaches are going to continue to try and keep scratching to figure out a way. We get it. We understand that if teams think blitzing is going to cause us problems, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to continue to attack until you prove you can beat it. … For Christian, he needs to know where to go with the ball and see it live. Because in the classroom, he’s lights out. There’s nothing I can ask him in the classroom that he can’t answer immediately and correctly. He’s boom, boom, boom, boom. That’s never an issue. But now, he’s a young quarterback in the process. And so it’s now, if they bring a pressure and I lose my ability to stretch the width and depth of the field with my underneath options, where can I go with the ball? Now if I’m in the pocket, where do I go? If I’m on the edge, where do I go? How long do I run to see if I can continue a play? Do I throw the ball away? It’s a flurry of decisions.”
Question 6: In 2007: AP burns the Bears for 224 yards and three TDs in Chicago. The way he is running he could very well top this performance. Agree?
With Peterson, I’m willing to believe anything right now. Seriously. I thought a 1,200-yard rushing season was probably the ceiling for a guy coming off ACL surgery. Boy, did I underestimate Peterson’s drive and positive energy.
Now, I’m doing calculations on when he might possibly be able to chase down Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record.
Here are the calculations there. Peterson is currently averaging 94.9 rushing yards per game played in his career. He’s 10,475 yards short of Smith right now. At his current rate, if he stays healthy, he could be attacking Smith’s mark 109, 110, maybe 111 games from now. Which for the record would be sometime around November 2019. Mark your calendars.
I’m half-kidding with such projections, obviously. But part of me isn’t kidding either.
Still, if you want to come back down closer to earth and look more short-term, understand these milestones Peterson could chase in 2012. He needs to average 105.3 rushing yards over the final six games to break his career high of 1,760 set in 2008. He needs to average 145.3 rushing yards to top 2,000. He needs to average 162.8 rushing yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105.
Is it possible? Probably not. But I’m not about to tell Peterson that. Are you?
Question 7: Will there be an Adrian Peterson statue outside of the new Target Stadium in 2020?
With everything I just projected, I should hope so.
Question 8: What should Vikings fans really be hoping for most the rest of the season: a playoff game this year or continued steady progress from the young players? Are both realistic?
You should be hoping for both. But counting on a playoff game this year still seems a little too far-fetched for me. I’m still finding it hard to believe the Vikings will fare well in their remaining road games. And I think 8-8 might be the best-case scenario. Which is a terrific, terrific improvement with what everyone had expected from the outside in August.
I give them credit for staying alive in the playoff race to this point. But as you mention young players showing steady progress, that will be as important down the stretch as anything.
The Vikings and the Wilf family have announced that they're pledging $100,000 to support Hurricane Sandy storm relief efforts. Here's the release that the team sent out this evening:
The Vikings will play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium in London on Sept. 29, 2013, the NFL announced today.
The game would count as a Vikings home game.
Here is the Vikings' release:
As part of the NFL’s International Series, the Minnesota Vikings have been selected to host the Pittsburgh Steelers at London’s Wembley Stadium on September 29, 2013.
Announced during NFL owners’ meetings today, the Vikings-Steelers matchup will be the seventh game in the NFL’s London International Series and the first in the league’s historic step to play two international games during the 2013 season. The Jacksonville Jaguars will also host the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley Stadium on October 27, 2013.
“This is a unique opportunity for the Vikings organization to highlight our brand on an international level,” said Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf. “Playing in London provides exceptional exposure to the team, as well as Minnesota’s impressive business community and tourism industry. We are honored to represent the NFL on a global level, and we look forward to playing in front of our international fan base.”
With a 5:00 p.m. UK kickoff (Noon CT), the Sunday game will be the Vikings first regular season matchup in London and the team’s first appearance in the UK in over 30 years. The Vikings previous trip to London was a preseason game against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 6, 1983, a game the Vikings won 28-10. Since the Vikings inception in 1961, the team has played four international games, all exhibition matches and all Vikings wins. The team’s last trip abroad was in 1994, a 17-9 exhibition victory over Kansas City in Tokyo.
“This is a great chance to leverage the popularity of the NFL and the Vikings to promote our region as one of the best in the world for business,” said Greater MSP CEO Michael Langley. “Our mission is to promote the Minneapolis-St. Paul region globally, to attract new investment and jobs. We can use the Vikings International Series game as an opportunity to build our region’s brand and to meet with global investors and decision-makers to sell our region and state.”
“At Meet Minneapolis, we are constantly focused on highlighting Minneapolis as a tourism, event and travel destination,” said Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant. “With a new stadium opening in 2016, a Vikings game in London will provide a great opportunity to introduce a global audience to this market and encourage international events to consider Minneapolis, City by Nature.”
MINNESOTA VIKINGS INTERNATIONAL GAMES
Year Location Opponent Result
1983........................... London......... St. Louis Cardinals........... W 28-10
1984........... Goteburg, Sweden............... Chicago Bears........... W 28-21
1993.............................. Berlin.................. Buffalo Bills............. W 20-6
1994............................. Tokyo........ Kansas City Chiefs............. W 17-9
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