VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
In two of the past three games, the Minnesota Vikings defense has played poorly—to the point of letting down its architect, head coach Mike Zimmer. Since Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, Zimmer has not minced words in just how he feels about the defense’s performance.
“Defensively we were very, very poor,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune after reviewing the game tape. “I’m trying to figure out how we can go from playing so good one week to playing so poorly the next week. That’s kind of disappointing to me. But we’re going to get back going and continue to find out more about these guys this as we get ready to go play Chicago.”
Zimmer was pretty disgusted with the defensive performance in Miami. In fact, he was pretty frontal in his criticism of it, and he gave it some near all-time marks, but not the kind of marks you would aspire to achieve:
“That was the worst we’ve played all year, maybe one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen in a long time, but definitely this year, for sure,” he said.
Asked to diagnose the problems, Zimmer was at a loss and initially blamed himself, but then he recalled the penalties, which were certainly a problem.
“I don’t know, maybe I had too much stuff in, maybe we were confused,” he said. “But we had 11 penalties on defense alone. If you’re going to have 11 penalties on one side of the ball, especially defensively, you’re not going to win very many games. That was extremely disappointing. Until you stop beating yourselves, you’re not going to beat anybody.”
Zimmer appeared no less agitated at his Monday press conference than he did Sunday after the game. He takes pride in his defense and really seems to hold them to a higher standard than anyone else. When they do well, it is expected and there are things to work on. When they do poorly, he is frustrated, confused, disappointed and downright owly until it changes. Right now, he is struggling to figure out exactly what happened against the Dolphins.
“Sometimes it just bothers me when people don’t do what you ask them to do,” Zimmer said. “If we could understand as a group, as a team, as a unit, if we do what we’re supposed to do, good things will happen. Throughout most of the season, the defense has done that. They’ve done what they’re supposed to do, lined up and done this and done that, and for the most part good things have happened for them. So, those things bother me, mistakes bother me, penalties bother me, selfishness bothers me.
“I’ve tried to preach [that] the team is important and understanding your role and understanding where you’re supposed to be. That’s why we have this room in here is so that we can all understand what we’re trying to get done--and that’s what bothers me the most.”
It’s strange, and also a shame that the defense has struggled in the last quarter of the season. Up until this point, it had been the unit that basically kept the Vikings’ season afloat while a rookie quarterback tried to figure out the NFL with an offense around him that was missing, injured or just underperforming.
For much of the season, the Vikings defense had ranked in the top 10 in the league in yardage allowed but is now 15th. The pass defense reached the fourth best—but it has now dropped to 8th, giving up 226.7 yards per game (allowing 377 passing yards against the Dolphins will do that). At one time, the defensive line was also near the top in sacks (now 7th with 40 on the season). It was formerly a defense that was ascending, but it is currently experiencing a steady decline.
So what happened? Interspersed between the terrible performance in Miami and a bad one against the Jets, the Vikings defense played well against the Lions (giving up just 233 total yards and 16 points). Did the defense which played well nearly all season simply overachieve during that time and is now regressing to the mean? Did the players lose their edge after being eliminated from the playoffs and then temporarily engage against the Lions to get Zimmer a divisional win? Are they now suffering from too many injuries (starters Anthony Barr, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison, Robert Blanton and Chad Greenway have all missed time recently)?
It could be all of the above. I am not sure what the answer is, and I certainly don’t presume to know it when the head coach is somewhat confused himself.
“I think for the most part I know who they are,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know who they were Sunday. It’s disappointing to me that, I mean we had guys who are normally good players that played poorly, I mean really poorly. That surprised me. Guys that you know you can count on that didn’t play good, that’s frustrating. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.”
Rest assured, Zimmer is going to find out what his defense is and who will be playing on it. There is one game left in the season, and that is all that remains for these players to put something on tape that Zimmer will perseverate over during the offseason.
We saw during the past offseason that Zimmer installed eight new starters on defense in an attempt to improve the bottom-feeding defense he inherited. With the pride Zimmer has put into the defensive side of the ball, he undoubtedly will make more changes this offseason.
Certainly Zimmer will look at the players’ entire body of work on the season, but given his current mood, no one should take for granted that they are golden. But we can.
Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes have been playing at a Pro Bowl level for much of the season (even though they didn’t get the votes needed to make it). Rookie Anthony Barr started all year until he was injured and became the lynchpin of the linebacking unit. Robison is a defensive leader and still valuable. Floyd and Gerald Hodges were both on the rise until their “undisciplined,” “ridiculous” and “stupid” (in Zimmer’s words) personal foul penalties in Miami. They had better be on their best behavior against the Bears.
Linval Joseph is safe, but he was being pushed by his backups most of the season. Jasper Brinkley did nothing to lose his job, but he didn’t really flash either. Zimmer loves Chad Greenway for his effort and leadership, but his age and deteriorating skills could become a liability—at least as a starter. Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton and Captain Munnerlyn and even Josh Robinson need decent games against Chicago to wash a bad taste that may be lingering in Zimmer’s mouth.
“At some point in time, I will get this defense fixed,” he said. “It may not be this week, it may not be until middle of the year, but it will get fixed you can bet your butt on that.”
Whether Zimmer wants to admit it or not, the future starts next Sunday for this defense. If the players want to be a Viking next season, they need to begin their audition against the Bears. Given the mood we have seen from the head coach this holiday week, expect his defense to respond with a decent performance.
Head over to Vikings Journal and check out the classic holiday-themed stories by AJ Mansour and Bo Mitchell and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
The Minnesota Vikings played tough versus the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, but they ended up losing 37-35 in a hard-fought game that costs the Vikings a chance to, at least, finish the season at .500.
The Vikings defense, which had been carrying the team all season, failed to hold up their end of stick, as they gave up 35 of the 37 points and 493 yards. The way the game basically ended with a botched snap that led to a blocked punt and a failed (drop-kick) onside kick attempt, were just two more bizarre twists in a game that featured plenty.
The Vikings had a number of chances to win the game, and with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater having another great game, they should have done so. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN radio after the game that they didn’t give him a chance: “It's disappointing that defensively we didn't help him out. He played good enough to win this football game.”
The Vikings finish up the season at home against Chicago next week, trying to improve their record to 7-9, which suddenly seems a lot better than 6-10. You can bet that Zimmer, who used words such as “ridiculous, embarrassing and stupid” for plays in the Dolphins game, will have the team playing better against the Bears in the season finale.
Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is blossoming into a decent quarterback. After notching a couple 300-yard passing games on his belt, Bridgewater had another excellent performance in front of his family and friends in his hometown of Miami. Bridgewater showed his usual good poise amidst a lot of pressure, he stepped up in the pocket often, made good decisions on whether to run or find an open receiver and then made the right play. His stats line was 19 of 26 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception (an interception that should have been a completion were it not for Matt Asiata bobbling the pass). His quarterback rating finished at 114.1.
The thing that stood out to me with Bridgewater was his touch. He hit Greg Jennings on a perfect pass for a touchdown, throwing the ball where only Jennings could make a play. He made several other great passes that hit receivers in stride and had the broadcasters praising his performance. If you put this in the context of what Norv Turner said about his rookie quarterback earlier this week, the Vikings are in good hands on offense moving forward.
Speaking of Greg Jennings, he is making a case to remain with the Vikings despite a large contract for an aging veteran. He had three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, but it was his fourth touchdown in the last five games, as he has been building some great chemistry with his quarterback.
The Vikings receiving crew has not been great this season, and that certainly can be attributable to the fact that Bridgewater is a rookie in the league. But early on, Jennings was looking to be sliding downhill a bit. The fact is, he still runs good routes, makes the catches when the ball is there and is now getting into the end zone. The Vikings need to beef up this unit next season, but it doesn’t yet look like it will come at the expense of losing Jennings.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who had been quiet the past few weeks, came up big again on Sunday. Although he dropped a sure interception (and possible pick six) that hit him in the chest, he made one just a few plays later. Smith rushed the quarterback Ryan Tannehill, blocked the pass, somehow grabbed it before it hit the ground and returned it far enough to put the Vikings position for their second touchdown.
It was Smith’s fifth interception of the season (a career high for the third-year player), and he is the only player in the league with at least three picks and three sacks. He has been solid all season, and should be considered for his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Matt Asiata is not a number one, workhorse, bell cow, lead running back in my opinion. He has some occasional shifty moves, but certainly doesn’t have breakaway speed. But when he runs with power and passion, as he has since returning from an injury in week 13, he has shown great value to the Vikings offense. Against the Dolphins, Asiata rushed 15 times for 58 yards, two touchdowns and an extra point. He once again proved that he can be a decent backup (if Adrian Peterson returns), a good change of pace back with a speed back like Jerick McKinnon and a decent goal line back with a nose for the endzone (he has nine touchdowns this year).
The Vikings pass rush was going against a unit that has struggled most of the season, yet quarterback Ryan Tannehill had time all day to throw the ball and ended up having a career high in completions with 35. The unit did not have end Brian Robison at full strength due to injury, but they got Sharrif Floyd back and still never did much to make Tannehill uncomfortable. The Vikings sacked him just two times, and did him 10 times (sometimes illegally) but rarely forced Tannehill to hurry many passes. The defensive front, one of the Vikings’ strengths, came up as a weakness down in Miami.
The Vikings offensive line looked decent early, opening some holes for Asiata. But unfortunately the offense couldn’t call running plays for the whole game because the pass blocking was atrocious. Bridgewater suffered four sacks and six quarterback hits and was on the run for the most of the game. I know they are missing three of their five opening day starters, but the offensive line has to do better than that. They have a young quarterback who is doing everything he can to run the offense, and he can’t do it when he is often running for his life. The aging offensive line needs to be addressed in the offseason.
Should be Ending
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who has been in and out of lineup with a bum knee in recent weeks, almost had an early shower again in Miami. He received a roughing the passer penalty and followed it up with dead ball personal foul penalty in which he threw a punch at a Dolphins offensive lineman. He should have been thrown out of the game. Some how he wasn’t, and that was good news for him and the Vikings as he was playing well up to that point.
Speaking of unnecessary roughness, linebacker Gerald Hodges got one that was also a dead ball foul. After taking receiver Jarvis Landry out of bounds, Hodges reacted to something Landry said with a bump after the play. The bump he gave would scare no one in a football uniform, so why do it? It gave the Dolphins 15 yards and led to a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, so, again, why do it? Zimmer, who called the penalties “stupid stuff,” was wondering also.
Chase Ford caught a touchdown pass just before halftime. It was ruled out of bounds on the one-yard line, as he was deemed to have stepped out. Replay showed that he appeared to have not stepped out. But the reply officials upheld the ruling on the field. It was close enough that such a ruling was possible, but still wrong.
But my problem was with what FOX referee/review analyst guy Mike Pereira said. Quoting stats on this season versus last year in which overturned rulings were way down in 2014, he said it shows that there is a new emphasis on sticking with the call on the field. Perhaps he had misspoken, but any reason for making a call other than making the call correctly is misguided. The call should be upheld if the replay doesn’t show enough to overturn the ruling, not because there is an emphasis on staying with the call on the field.
I might be splitting hairs, but if we are making calls for any other reason than what is the right call to make, then aren’t we defeating the purpose of the whole replay system? I don’t care about the refs’ percentage of calls overruled; I care about the percentage of calls that are ultimately made correctly—replay or not.
Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's analysis of Mike Zimmer's clock management and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
With only two weeks left to go for the 2014 Regular Season and the playoffs out of reach, it already becomes time to look ahead, a bit, to the off-season. More so than any other in recent memory, this off-season appears as if it will be filled with change for this Vikings squad.
Last year, a new coaching staff came into the picture bringing with it for the players a concern about what direction the team was heading and who would fit into the future blueprint. With a year under his belt, and fans seemingly happy with the direction the team is headed, the plan for future involvement is becoming pretty clear to some. And for a few of them, those plans don’t appear to include them.
This morning’s Star Tribune published a story about one such player, FB Jerome Felton.
With his running mate, Adrian Peterson, sidelined for most of the season, Felton has seen his inclusion in the Vikings offense go by the wayside. And now that most people warming up to the idea that Peterson will not be returning to the team next season, Felton, under contract through 2015, is of the mindset that he will not be returning.
We mentioned him in passing, but how about player number 2 (should probably be number 1), who is unlikely to return in 2015, Adrian Peterson. This off-the-field situation going on right now between Peterson and the NFL has soured the former MVP’s mindset towards not only the game, but also towards the Minnesota Vikings franchise. Right or wrong, Peterson holds some of the blame for all of this towards the team and could very easily use this unfortunate situation as a means to punch his ticket to a team that will be less “judgy” towards his past. A not so secret beef has surfaced between Peterson and some upper management figures within the Vikings front office and everything put together makes it look increasingly unlikely that Peterson will be wearing Vikings’ purple in 2015.
Next up is another fairly obvious one, LG Charlie Johnson. Riddled by injuries down the stretch here in 2014, Johnson’s sub-par season and aging body make this an easy choice to part ways with. Just look at the list here. His production has dropped, his body is falling apart, and his on-roster replacement would be about $2 million cheaper. Color me shocked if Charlie Johnson is a member of the Minnesota Vikings next season.
Then comes a guy who for whatever reason was one of the most polarizing personalities in Minnesota sports over the past four seasons, Christian Ponder. In another interesting story posted by the Strib this week, Christian Ponder talked about his failed tenure in Minnesota and what the future holds.
Obviously not returning after failing with multiple opportunities and then being jerked around for two years, Ponder does have a future in the NFL, probably not as a starter but he will land somewhere.
Last but not least, for the bigger name players, there’s the question about LB Chad Greenway. For each of his eight professional seasons, Chad Greenway has put on the purple Minnesota Vikings jersey on game day. And for each of those seasons, Chad has taken a considerable amount of heat. In the same breath, Greenway has led the team in tackles six times to date and is within reach of doing it for another time this year. The big question comes this offseason, is it worth keeping Chad around for another season? It’s my belief that he will be back to sign a lower value two year contract and finish out his career with the Minnesota Vikings, but I can’t argue too hard with people who believe they will not retain him.
Then you’ve got other names like Matt Asiata, Joe Berger, Robert Blanton and Audie Cole who come up. Players who are lesser known, may or may not have value elsewhere and may or may not be in the future plans here in Minnesota.
With Zimmer established, going into this offseason the Vikings will be holding no punches. There are no more questions about what type of players coach wants or doesn’t want, just the question of where are you going to get them.
It’s going to be interesting to see, but the Vikings are going to be active this off-season and some of the players that we know and love/loathe will be the casualties of the business side of the NFL.
We’ve heard the phrase from every coach in the NFL when one of his players goes out with an injury: “Next man up!” It explains their one, if only, recourse when faced with a long-term injury—the backup has to step in and perform. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has faced that situation often this season and his team has responded.
The list of “next men up” for the Vikings this season has been long. And while the Vikings may be out of the playoffs at 6-8, they haven’t been out of many games, and that is primarily due to the next man up philosophy paying off.
Before the season, I wouldn’t have said the Vikings are loaded with depth. The new coaching regime came in and certainly added a number of players—both as starters and as backups. But I will say they have done well with the adversity they have faced.
As stated earlier, every team and head coach goes through it, and certainly we have seen times when next man up hasn’t worked so well. Just thinking back to the difficulties the Vikings had in their oft-injured secondary the past two seasons, we can see evidence of it not working. But 2014 season has been different, and there is a decent sample size to back it up. Let’s take a look at how it has gone.
Adrian Peterson was the first player out (due to off-the-field issues), and Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon became his replacement (Peterson’s big shoes required two players to replace him). In 13 games, Asiata hasn’t ripped up the league in yards per carry (3.3), but he does have seven touchdowns, 39 receptions and has done well pass protection. McKinnon, before he injured his back, played in 11 games and amassed an average of 4.8 yards per carry and an average of 5.0 yards per reception. Again, no great shakes, but together, the pair of running backs gave the Vikings some options at running back while waiting for Peterson to return.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph hobbled through three games with a sports hernia before missing seven games, and his replacement Chase Ford filled in quite well. In nine games, he had 22 receptions, a 10.7 yards per catch average and a touchdown. Many of his plays came in big moments. Unfortunately, his has almost disappeared since the return of Rudolph, but with Rudolph’s injury history, it is good to have a decent backup.
The Vikings offensive line has decimated this season with left tackle Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan the only two starters still on the field. Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt and Charlie Johnson are all out with injury (Fusco since game three) and Joe Berger, Vladimir Ducasse and Mike Harris have been the replacement starters.
The line has struggled all year, but it must be said that this patched together group has played well recently, and had a particularly good game last Sunday against the Lions, arguably the top defensive line in the league. Judging by their recent work (the Jets defensive line is ranked sixth), hope for this unit’s depth exists. But they could be looking at an infusion of some younger personnel next season (Berger and Johnson are in their 30s and Sullivan soon will be).
Quarterback Matt Cassel went down in Game 3 and was replaced by Teddy Bridgewater (with Christian Ponder starting one game for the injured Bridgewater). It was not ideal to bring in the rookie so soon, but Bridgewater has performed well and only looked like a rookie in moments (two picks on Sunday) rather than for entire games. Head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t excited about starting him so soon, but he does believe you develop by playing. He said the following on the subject:
“I really think you learn best from playing. That’s what I believe," Zimmer told the Star Tribune. "I’m glad that he’s playing. What I was nervous about at the beginning of the year was--because I know this guy’s got a chance to be the guy for a long, long time here--I didn’t want to get him beat up. I didn’t want to get him a bunch of bad outings where he didn’t have that confidence and that attitude that he was going to do the things that he’s doing.
“I’m really glad that he’s playing; I’m glad that we’re keeping him upright. You can think back on some of the quarterbacks that had to play as rookies or have been playing as rookies and got the heck beat out of them and they haven’t made it. That was the most important thing to start the season is that we take care of him and when it’s time it’s time.”
The only thing worth saying about Bridgewater as a backup—he no longer is one.
Second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges has seen plenty of action this season (played in 12 games and started five), filling in for an injured Chad Greenway and now Anthony Barr. Not yet a finished product, Hodges has made definite strides this season under the tutelage of Zimmer and the other coaches. Hodges has 39 tackles, plus a big interception pick-six against the Jets. He had another decent game against Lions, leading the team in tackles with nine and collecting two passes defended. Hodges will be pushing for a starting role next season, and Greenway, who will be 32 next season, had better be on alert.
In limited roles, both Shamar Stephen and Andrew Sendejo have filled in for Sharrif Floyd and Robert Blanton, respectively, and both have produced. In each case, the starter is trying to return, but the two backups have stepped up well when called upon.
Wide receiver Charles Johnson says that is the mentality you have to have—be ready to go when you are called upon—and he has done that in spades. Jerome Simpson was let go after being suspended and Cordarrelle Patterson has been slow in grasping the starting wide receiver role this season. In comes Johnson, who missed last season recovering from ACL injury and was signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad in mid-September, and he has performed beyond expectations. He became the starter and lately has become Bridgewater’s number one target. He was ready for the opportunity.
“That’s the NFL, people are going to be injured and you’ve got to be ready when your number is called,” Johnson told the Star Tribune. “I’m always prepared—even if I am not playing, I am preparing like I am starting. I wasn’t surprised; I knew I would get a chance once I became healthy. I know my ability; I know what I can do. It’s all about the opportunity.”
Many of the next men up have made their most of their opportunity with the Vikings this season. But they can only do so if they get a chance. The team has had more than a few opportunities, and it hasn’t fallen apart as a result. That is attributable to a coaching staff that is able to recognize talent (six of the 11 players mentioned above were brought in by Zimmer and his staff), prepare those players well and be able to roll with the punches. In his first season as head coach, Zimmer’s team has taken plenty of punches.
Head over to Vikings Journal and check out Bo Mitchell's Week 16 Fantasy Foootball rankings and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
The Minnesota Vikings went into Ford Field to get their first divisional win of the season, and had the best chance to grab it. But two Teddy Bridgewater picks and two missed Blair Walsh kicks later, and the Vikings came up short, 16-14.
The visiting Vikings looked in command of the game throughout most of the first half, as the Lions, reportedly suffering from a flu-filled locker room, seemed to sleepwalk through the contest early. But then Bridgewater threw interceptions on two consecutive series and shrunk the Vikings’ two-touchdown lead into a 14-10 halftime score. The Lions were suddenly awake and engaged and did enough to eventually win the game.
"We played well enough to win, but we just didn't win on the scoreboard,” head coach Mike Zimmer told the Star Tribune after the game. But unfortunately the scoreboard is where they tally the wins and losses, and the Vikings came on the short end of another winnable game. Zimmer says there are some positive things to take from the game, but a win wasn’t one of them.
The Vikings offensive line has taken more than its share of heat this season, so they need to be commended for their performance against the Lions. Going against the one of the toughest lines in the league (one that sacked Bridgewater eight times last time they met), the offensive line played very well—particularly when you consider they were down three starting players. Bridgewater was sacked four times, but not all of them were on a breakdown in the line. It is still too many, but I can’t call the line out for a poor performance this week when the odds were stacked so highly against them.
The Vikings defense had a great bounce back game after last week’s sluggish performance against the New York Jets. They shut down a decent Lions offense, giving up the only touchdown after the offense gifted them with a very short field. The defense gave up 233 total yards and 153 to the Lions’ potent passing attack. The job the secondary did on Calvin Johnson was masterful and really kept the Vikings in the game. This is also a defense without several starters, so it is a good sign for its depth and how Zimmer has the whole unit playing.
Speaking of shutting down Megatron, cornerback Xavier Rhodes gets the lion share of credit. After Zimmer said all week he wasn’t going to do so, he assigned Rhodes to shadow Johnson all game long, and Rhodes rose to the challenge. It was the first time in Rhodes career that he shadowed a player, and he helped hold Johnson to four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. The Xavier Rhodes star keeps rising, and I expect him to get a similar assignment in two weeks against Alshon Jeffery of the Bears.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played like a rookie quarterback against the Lions (the good news is that he didn’t play like rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel). Bridgewater was on top of his game for a quarter and a half, hitting seven different receivers in the first quarter, and leading the team to two scoring drives and a 14-point lead. But then with 7:21 to go in the second quarter he threw a pass to the wrong shoulder of Charles Johnson and nearly gave up a pick six. Just two plays later he threw another one. The Vikings never scored again, and the Lions scored 16 unanswered points.
Teddy gets plenty of praise for building the lead (on the game he was 31 of 41 for 315 yards and a touchdown, plus his 31 completions and his 75.6 completion percentage were both career highs). But he needs to get knocked for the picks and the high throws that crept back into his game on Sunday—one that sailed over Jarius Wright’s head could have put the team in better field position for a game-winning field goal. I still say he is a rookie and give him a pass. He looked poised and in charge, and didn’t let the picks affect him in the second half. He has to take a heavy does of blame, but I like where he is headed.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph had the kind of game closer to what we were hoping to see all season—seven catches for 59 yards. But his sports hernia earlier in the season prevented that from happening. To his credit, he is still getting back to 100 percent and into game shape the past four weeks, and is trying to play through it. Rudolph even went down with a knee injury against the Lions when a player rolled up on his leg, but he came back in the game. The Vikings will need him back on the field all season next year for the offense to take another step forward.
Zimmer said last week that he probably gave the ball too much to running back Matt Asiata against the Jets, and Asiata appeared spurred on by that slight as he ran with power and passion in the first half the game. His final rushing stats were not huge—11 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown—as the Vikings spread it around in the second half. But Asiata also caught seven passes for 50 yards and was Bridgewater’s dump-off safety valve all game long, and did well in the role. While he is not the flashy running back the Vikings have had in the recent seasons, Asiata showed his value to the team and will get plenty more snaps going forward.
Should be Ending
Placekicker Blair Walsh had another tough day at the ball yard. On the heels of last week against the Jets, where he hit 1 of 3 field goals, he (technically) shows up on the scoring sheet going 0 for 3 against the Lions. Unfortunately, anyone of those kicks could have won the game. The first miss was a 53-yarder that is a kick he has made often in his career, but he pushed it poorly wide right. The second from 27 yards was blocked (and Zimmer says that was not Walsh’s fault). And the third he gets a pass because 68 yards is three yards longer than the NFL record. He has the leg for it, but the odds of it going through are slim. Still, it would have been a fun way to end the game.
The problem is his overall numbers. Walsh’s percentage has been dropping from the 92.1 percent in his Pro Bowl rookie year, to 86.7 percent last season (when he was suffering some from an injury) to 78.6 this season. I am not saying they should start looking for another kicker (the team did move outside this season and will move back inside in a couple years), but Walsh hasn’t been the reliable kicker he has been. Are we spoiled by his rookie success? A little. But when that’s the bar you set, the pressure rises to keep reaching it.
There was a little too much confusion on the sidelines in the final minutes of play. The Vikings could have done better with the clock, better with getting plays in to Bridgewater, better to getting to the line, and maybe even better at calling plays (a pass to the middle of the field to Rudolph on 4th down took too long, and a delay of game penalty was very untimely). Some of that goes on a rookie quarterback trying to negotiate the final frantic minutes, but the last coaching staff wasn’t very good at clock management, and I am hoping this one is better.
Just when we thought we might never see Cordarrelle Patterson do anything again, he almost single-handedly put the team in position to win the game in the last minutes. After seeing his season kickoff return average drop to 24.9 (compared to an NFL-high average of 32.4 yards last season), Patterson broke off a 51-yarder. Then he caught two Bridgewater passes (when Jarius Wright left the game with an injury) to put the team even closer. On a third he got mugged in what looked like pass interference that wasn’t called, but the bottom line is Patterson was contributing to the team like hasn’t really done for weeks.
Perhaps Patterson’s confidence will begin to build again, and even more important maybe the quarterback’s and the coaches’ confidence in Patterson may be on the rise, as well. That doesn’t mean he should start next week against Miami, but I’m hoping we don’t have to see his time in Minnesota completely waste away riding the pine.
Head over to Vikings Journal and check out AJ Mansour's article on the Vikings' missed opportunities in Detroit and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Since 2007, when Adrian Peterson was a rookie for the Minnesota Vikings, the team’s running game was pretty uncomplicated. Hand the ball off to Peterson and let him rack up yards. But in 2014, that completely changed [link]. The Vikings backfield has been in constant flux, full of questions that may not be answered soon.
The most recent head-scratcher came last Sunday when starter Matt Asiata carried the ball for 19 times (and caught three passes), while backups Joe Banyard and Ben Tate carried it for a total of four. Granted Asiata is the starter, and by rights should get the ball the majority of times, but with a rushing average of 2.8 yards per carry, it begs the question of why not try something else.
That question becomes even more relevant when you consider the Vikings are 6-7 and virtually out of the playoffs, and have precious little to play for other than next season. The pre-emptive starter and potential future of the position Jerick McKinnon had been placed on the injured reserve list and Peterson, the legend he replaced, has played just one game this season and may never play again for the Vikings. So we must ask, why not see what you got? Why are Banyard and Tate so limited?
It was good to hear that someone asked the question of head coach Mike Zimmer—specifically wondering if Banyard did something to land in the coach’s doghouse.
“No and he’s not,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “He’ll probably get some more carries. I think Matt probably had a few too many carries. We’d like to get Ben a few more carries this week as well, so we’ll see. Sometimes you just get in the flow of games and things happen. Unless you pre-script it and say, “This series and this series,” sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Matt probably got a few too many and those other guys probably got a few too less.”
Well, there should be no probably about it. McKinnon is out with a back injury we know little about, Peterson is still in limbo and Asiata’s talents have long been on display. The running game going forward will likely not rely so heavily on Asiata, so why not see what the other players have? Why do you pick up Tate (other than for veteran depth) if you don’t want to give him a chance to show what he can do during games? Banyard has flashed in limited opportunities and we are not even sure what Jerome Felton can do anymore other than block (and jump on a fumble in the endzone).
Against the Jets, Asiata was on the field for 45 offensive snaps, Felton and Tate each got 10 snaps, and Banyard just three snaps, so it is hard to make any kind of game-time determination from that. Certainly Zimmer wants more wins (that has been established), and he sees what Tate, Banyard and Asiata can do in practice everyday, but he should take a better look at them when the bullets are flying.
And to Zimmer’s credit, he is willing to admit when he doesn’t make the right move. But now is he planning to give them all more snaps against the Detroit Lions? The Lions are the second best defense overall in the league and the best in the NFL against the rush at 62.8 yards per carry. Well, it is good to test yourself against the best, but it is difficult to see what might be learned on Sunday at Ford Field.
The Detroit defensive front is going to be coming after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and presumably Asiata has often been on the field to help protect the quarterback of the future. So I am going to wait and see how much run someone like Banyard gets (when he has had trouble in pass protection) and Tate, who still may be learning all the protections.
“Well, Joe just needs to make sure that he stays up on the protection parts of things. Ben, when he gets the opportunity, keep showing what he can do as far as that,” Zimmer said. “One of the things we’ve done great, or I think we’ve done great at least recently, is we’ve had great ball security and so we’ve got to make sure that we’re securing the football and not turning the ball over like we did the last time we played these guys. We’ve been pretty solid in that area for quite a while now and that’s been big, making sure they’re doing that.”
Is it possible that Asiata is just a placeholder until next season for McKinnon or perhaps even a return for Peterson? Peterson has expressed a desire to play again this season. On top of that, the Vikings football operations have never waivered in their support of Peterson, with Zimmer saying the following: "All I know of Adrian is that he's always been great with me, always done what I've asked him to do, and I kind of go by what I see." So, what happens if he is somehow reinstated this season?
McKinnon’s long-term health and Peterson’s status going forward are just some of the questions that cloud the clarity of the Vikings running back situation—and more than any others, the answers to those questions are out of the hands of the coaching staff. More snaps for Banyard and Tate, are not however. The sooner, the better for that.
Head over to Vikings Journal and check out Bo Mitchell's story on offensive tackle Matt Kalil and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
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