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.
For the sixth time in his seven-year career, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been chosen to play in the Pro Bowl. No other Vikings were selected.
Peterson, the reigning league MVP who ran for 2,097 yards a season ago, began this season with a goal of rushing for 2,500 yards. Listed as doubtful for Sunday's season finale against Detroit because of groin and foot injuries, he'll likely end the season with 1,266 yards in 14 games. That's still the third most yards the year after a 2,000-yard season. Eric Dickerson had 1,234 the year after he rushed for the NFL record of 2,105.
Peterson also has a team-high 11 touchdowns, including 10 rushing, and a 4.5-yard average per carry.
Peterson's six Pro Bowl selections are tied for fifth-most in team history. The only people ahead of him are Hall of Famers: Guard Randall McDaniel (11), defensive tackle Alan Page (nine), receiver Cris Carter (eight) and offensive tackle Ron Yary (seven).
This is the first year the Pro Bowl will not be broken down by conference. The first Pro Bowl draft will be televised at 7 p.m. Jan. 22. Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as team captains and select the teams.
The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 in Hawaii.
Vikings defense end Jared Allen could play his final game in purple on Sunday, but he’s more focused in taking part of the final game at the Metrodome at the moment.
“I'm trying to go out the way I want in this Metrodome and have this last game be something special,” Allen said. “Kevin [Williams] and I talked about it earlier this week, saying we just want to let loose and make it a game to remember, from a win standpoint, from our performances, the crowd, the energy level, all of that.”
Allen will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and did spend time discussing the uncertainty around his career. The 10th year veteran wants to play again next year, but the free agency process will be less stressful.
“When you’re younger you’re trying to figure out all this craziness, and when you look back you realize there’s a plan and it’s better than any kind I could’ve hatched,” Allen said. “So I’m just enjoying the ride, honestly. If this ends up being my last game here, then it’s been one of the greatest rides I’ve ever been on. It’s been a great six years.”
Allen has yet to play in a Super Bowl however, and he said that will play a big factor into what occurs in the offseason. He’s had four postseason appearances in his career, reaching the conference championship game once with the Vikings in 2009.
“Heck, everybody would love to retire like Ray [Lewis] and [Michael] Strahan, right?” Allen said. “Win a Super Bowl and call it quits. So that’ll be on my mind, and that’ll definitely be a place when you get older, like I said, the later you get in your career that becomes more the main focus of how do you get to a championship.”
Here's the injury update from both teams:
Vikings: LB Audie Cole (ankle), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), DT Letroy Guion (quadriceps) and CB Shaun Prater (ankle) and G Charlie Johnson (not injury related) did not practice Thursday. RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), RB Matt Asiata (ankle), LB Larry Dean (knee), DT Fred Evans (knee), CB Chris Cook (knee), S Harrison Smith (foot/groin) and CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle) were limited participants. FB Jerome Felton (knee), G Brandon Fusco (knee), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest) and CB Marcus Sherels (shoulder) were full participants.
Lions: TE Dorin Dickerson (concussion) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) went on injured reserve. CB Bill Bentley (concussion), S Louis Delmas (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), LB DeAndre Levy (foot), S John Wendling (ankle), CB Chris Houston (toe), G Dylan Gandy (illness) and T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle) did not practice. S Louis Delmas, RB Joique Bell (knee), CB Jonte Green (shoulder), DE Israel Idonije (neck) and CB Darius Slay (knee) were limited participants.
Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. Now back to football.
In case you somehow forgot, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel had four turnovers in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. We’ll take a look at two this week that resulted in 14 easy points for the Bengals in the first half.
The situation: On the opening drive, the Vikings faced a 3rd and 6 at the Bengals’ 45. They attempted to convert on pass play.
The reason: The Vikings received good field position on wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson’s return but gained just four yards on the first two run plays to running back Adrian Peterson. A three-and-out would be a devastating start given the drive began in their opponents’ territory.
The result: Cassel fumbled while he was sacked. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap recovered the loose ball and returned it 46 yards to the Vikings’ 4. Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored two plays later.
"There are some things we could have done a little bit different to help us there," head coach Leslie Frazier said about the offensive line. "We could have done better and we did better as the game went on, but on that very first one we didn’t handle it as well as we should have.”
How it happened:
As Cassel drops back, the Bengals bring six defenders (marked with red "x"), but it shouldn't be a problem with seven blockers (marked with yellow "x"). Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict drops in coverage just as the ball is snapped.
Of course, just because the Vikings have more blockers doesn't mean Cassel will be assured good pocket protection. More on that in the next still, but clearly Cassel is under pressure. The Bengals are playing man coverage on the outside receivers and use Burifct to play underneath the slot receiver with a safety over the top.
So why exactly did Cassel feel heat with more blockers? First, running back Toby Gerhart (circled in yellow) did a good job picking up the linebacker blitzing from the A gap, but the right side of the line doesn't shift over. Center John Sullivan doesn't have anyone to block. Not only do the Bengals have one-on-one matchups across the line but there's a defender that goes untouched.
Cassel goes down and doesn't protect the football. It's bad enough that the Vikings wasted great field position on a short opening drive but this fumble was costly. He has to do a better job of holding on to the ball.
"We probably could have protected a little bit better," Frazier said. "There were some things we could have done a little bit better as an offense as a whole that maybe could have helped Matt some, but he still has to do a good job protecting the ball."
The situation: Down 14-7 with 10:10 left in the second quarter, the Vikings face a 3rd and two at their 20 and go with an empty backfield.
The reason: By this point in the game, Gerhart doesn't play again with his hamstring injury and Peterson wasn't effective dealing with his foot sprain. He had no gain on first down but Patterson's eight-yard rush gave the offense to a managable situation.
The result: Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey intercepted Cassel's pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
"Anytime you turn the ball over and you have drive start, in their case, from the four, that’s tough," Frazier said. "The pick-six, those are tough to overcome on the road. You don’t want to dig yourself a hole of any kind. You don’t want to give people things on the road.”
How it happened:
Just as the offense gets set, Burfict (circled in red) makes a late defensive adjustment on the coverage. The Vikings have three wideouts bunched on the right side with two on the left. The Bengals don't show blitz before or after Burfict's adjustment.
In fact, the Bengals just rush three and drop eight on the short yardage play because the Vikings have an empty back set. Cassel shifts his attention to the trips side on a three-step drop, so he'll likely get the ball out quickly.
Cassel stares down at Greg Jennings, Cassel's favorite target, on the play and hits his third step at this point. Rey (circled in red) notices Cassel's eyes and sits in that area with tight end Rhett Ellison cutting across.
Eyes don't lie in this case. Cassel throws to Jennings just as he breaks on the five-yard route and Rey reads it the entire way. He jumps the pass for the interception and scores easily.
The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.
Offense: 75 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – DNP
Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.
That streak is now history.
RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)
FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)
RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)
The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)
TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)
WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)
Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.
C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)
G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)
T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)
G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)
Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.
Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)
The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.
Defense: 69 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)
DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)
DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)
DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)
NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)
NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)
DT Chase Baker – DNP
Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.
LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)
LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)
LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)
Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.
CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)
CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)
FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)
SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)
FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)
CB Robert Steeples – DNP
Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.
The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.
Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)
Without running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Vikings offense still racked up 48 points.
So you won't have to wait until Friday to figure out who will be the starting quarterback. Matt Cassel went 26 of 35 for 382 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the 48-30 victory over the Eagles.
"No, no questions," Frazier said on next week's starter. "I don't think there are any questions."
Cassel has taken over the starting position, which belonged to Christian Ponder for most of the season until he suffered a concussion two weeks ago. Since that point, Cassel led the Vikings in the second half to beat the Bears, lose in the final seconds against the Ravens, and now blow out an Eagles team jockeying for a playoff spot.
It took 15 weeks, but perhaps the Vikings have solidified the quarterback position for the final two games.
"I don't look in the past to be completely honest with you," Cassel said. "There are decisions that are made and you never know how they are going to work out. At the same time, I'm excited that I was able to go out there and perform today and I continue to look ahead. I never look behind myself and you continue to just look forward."
Wide receiver Greg Jennings has benefited from Cassel’s increased role in the offense. He had a career high 11 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.
"You wonder it, but I remember mentioning something like that to Matt," said Jennings on if Cassel would’ve started the season at quarterback. "And he said, 'We've got three games left. Let's make the best of it.' And I love it because it’s his mindset. He’s not worried about what could’ve, should’ve or possibly been. He stays in the now.”
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