Monday, July 27, 2015

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I realize it is mid-July and the dog days of summer are still ahead of us. Yet, with training camp opening a week from today, we’re approaching the 2014 season rapidly.

There are a lot of new faces with the Vikings entering this season. Coupled with a nearly entirely new coaching staff, the Vikings have a slew of new draftees and free agents added to mix.

Adding to that is the transition from playing inside the former Metrodome to an outdoor field at TCF Bank Stadium. Although the Vikings spent two decades playing outdoors in the 60s and 70s, the thought of bearing the winter elements for the next two seasons provide reasons for concerns.

There aren’t many examples of teams who have traditionally played indoors only to move outdoors for the construction of a new stadium. This is likely because most teams don’t construct the new stadium in the exact same location of the previous stadium. The closest example I can think of is when the University of Minnesota moved from the Metrodome to TCF Bank Stadium. That comparison seems unfair, though, because the Gopher program was terrible at the time.

Because there is little historical precedence for comparison, it is difficult to gauge how well the Vikings will make the transition outdoors. We can however, look at their performance in outdoor stadiums over the last handful of years.

Generally speaking, the Vikings have struggled when playing in outdoor stadiums posting a 2-14-1 record during the 2011-2013 seasons when playing in open air. There is no doubt the Vikings are a better team at home than on the road, however, you have to wonder how they will fair after the leaving the comfort of dome.

The Vikings do have some advantages when looking to play outdoors, however.

Firstly, this is still very much Adrian Peterson’s run first football team. A team that is designed to excel in running the ball with power will find more success playing in the Minnesota climate than trying to play a finesse offense.

I realize this seems counter intuitive when we’ve watched teams like Green Bay, Chicago, Denver and New England thrive outdoors in similar climates. However, I think it’s safe to say that the running game is important to those teams as it is to the Vikings. There is a reason the Packers have drafted a handful of running backs recently (including 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy) and power running back LeGarrette Blount had such an impact on New England’s run in the playoffs last year.

When the wind is blowing or the temperatures dive into single digits, there is nothing better than having a trusted running back to help move the chains.

Most Viking fans remember how poorly the first Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium went. The Vikings were dominated by the Chicago Bears on turf so frozen it essentially ended Brett Favre’s career. Thankfully the Vikings and University of Minnesota agreed to add technology that would heat the field and keep the turf clean and forgiving.

This should come as a relief for a team who has a workhorse running back who will soon be turning 30 years old.

Something that might be over looked that could certainly be used to the advantage of the Vikings is the fact that teams will likely not be able to strategize against kick returner and do it all wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. When playing in the Metrodome, teams eventually stopped kicking it to Patterson, opting to boom it through the back of the end zone.

Viking fans should be hopeful that the elements make this strategy more difficult to employ. One would think it would be difficult for a team to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone with the wind and temperatures that will likely come hand in hand with TCF Bank Stadium. As we’ve seen, Patterson isn’t afraid to take the ball out from 9 yards deep.

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GIF courtesy of SI.com

Speaking of Patterson, and the other wide receivers on the roster, they seem to all excel at making plays after the reception and are great at amassing yards after the catch. Essentially this means if the weather is horrid, the offense won’t have to rely on deep passes for big gains.

There is something to be said about the mentality of a team playing outdoors, as well. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is on record saying his defense will be geared to stop the run.

“That’s because we’re going to play the run,” Zimmer told KFAN.com. “It’s just what I believe in.”

Looking at the moves the Vikings have made in free agency and the draft, an aggressive and physical front seven will help enforce this mentality.

My final note that I believe suits the Vikings well for playing out doors is the quarterback. I do believe Matt Cassel will start the season behind center. Although everyone is eager to see Teddy Bridgewater in action, Cassel presents a very nice option for the team to rely on. Cassel has the type of arm strength that will thrive in an outdoor environment where extra zip on passes might be necessary to combat the elements.

casseltojennings

Cassel obviously played outdoors in both Kansas City and New England and had arguably one of his best seasons of his career while playing in the cold weather in New England. Notably, Cassel posted a 105.1 QB rating while playing at Buffalo in late December.

Because of all of this, I think the Vikings are poised to become the type of team that can have success while playing in cold environment where the weather can be bipolar. If they can prove to be true to their identity of a hard nosed team who runs the ball with power and uses the pass wisely, they can prove to be equally dangerous offensively no matter the environment. I think playing outdoors will only help our defense, and will allow us to embrace the type of intense mentality Zimmer is installing.

In the meantime, I’m looking for a Vikings jersey lined with a fleece hoodie. The team might have to embrace the cold weather, but I’m not going to.

Skol.

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Over the past number of years, women have made great strides in the world of sports media—gaining inclusion, greater access and increased respect.  It  is important to acknowledge the progress, but it is also sometimes necessary to realize that discrimination still exists … and not always in the ways one might expect.

On July 14, Sports Illustrated reported that Erin Andrews will replace Pam Oliver as Fox’s top NFL sideline reporter for the 2014-15 season. Oliver will now work as the No. 2 reporter—she will say goodbye to teammates Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and instead join Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch. And after that, she  will be removed from the sidelines altogether and will work for Fox in a different capacity.

Oliver told SI that she will miss all of the little things, including inside jokes, Buck’s impersonations and Aikman’s “bad impersonations.”   “I went through a range of emotions, but […] disappointment has passed me and I have reached a point of trying to move forward with some sadness.”

This season will be Oliver’s 20th—and final—year on the job, and she had every intention of being able to go out on top. Clearly, the network had other plans.

“To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking,” Oliver admitted. “I said I wanted to do a 20th year. I expressed to them that I was not done and had something to offer. Again, I think it was predetermined […]. Two years ago it was determined that no matter what I did or did not do, a change would be made for this year.”

Some may expect to see discrimination in males being favored over females for sports media roles; however, women feel the pressure in other ways than just from men. Males in the industry, such as Al Michaels and Terry Bradshaw, are considered more experienced and more credible as they age. Women are not so lucky.

Chris Kluwe has been the centerpiece of a lot of controversy recently (and also not very recently), this time in regards to a lawsuit he may bring forth against the Vikings for quite a few different, but related claims.

At any rate, he was a little more specific on twitter today about the reason he doesn’t have a job punting in the NFL at the moment.

He also later tweeted that the Oakland job was a situation where he was evaluated equally to Marquette King, but lost out because of King’s age. The fact that Oakland was the only team to keep two punters on the roster after final cutdowns is actually pretty good evidence of that Raiders argument—they claimed they were willing to listen to trade offers for either punter.

 

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While some teams have already established themselves as Super Bowl contenders, the Minnesota Vikings are looking to climb up from the cellar of the NFC North to playoff contenders. A surprise rise from divisional worst to first is not as improbable as you might think.

Parity is at an extreme in the NFL. For eleven consecutive seasons at least one team who finished last in their division turned things around to capture the divisional title the very next year. As a matter of fact, the worst to first campaign has happened 15 times in the NFL since 2003.

Last season the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles both went from the bottom to the top in the first season under a new coaching staff. Will the Vikings follow their lead this season?

Eight NFL teams have a crack at the worst to first feat. Buffalo, Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington face the unenviable challenge of trying to keep the consecutive streak alive. I’m not an odds maker, but I certainly think the Vikings have as good as any chance to pull it off.

So, who was the last NFC North team to go from worst to first? The Chicago Bear did it in 2005. Quarterback Rex Grossman spent most of his first 3 seasons sidelined with injuries and Kyle Orton, a 4th round rookie from Purdue, took the reins in week 2 and lead the Bears all the way to the playoffs. Orton’s play wasn’t the real story behind the Bears’ rise to the top. The defensive unit lead by second year defensive coordinator Ron Rivera made major improvements to finish 2nd in the league in yards per game after being ranked 21st in that category in 2004. The 2005 Bears’ defense also climbed all the way to 1st in points allowed.

If the Vikings aspire to finish on top of the NFC North this season, an improved defense under new head coach Mike Zimmer is an absolute must. And one of the biggest keys to improving the Vikings defense will be finding a way to keep Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith healthy and on the field for most of the season.

A new coaching staff and fresh concepts on the defensive side of the ball, plus personnel acquisitions like DT Linval Joseph, CB Captain Munnerlyn and first round draft pick LB Anthony Barr have me optimistic that the Vikings’ defensive struggles are in the rear view mirror.

I’m not expecting a top ten D right out of the gate in 2014, but Zimmer has enough young talent to take a leap forward very quickly. Most Vikings fans have high hopes that sooner or later Zimmer will have the defense ranked near the top of the NFL leader board… and my fingers are crossed for sooner rather than later.

 

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The press conference Chris Kluwe and his lawyer Clay Halunen elected to hold at 11:00 AM today in response to word they received that the report on allegations regarding homophobic statements special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made has concluded. There are a few key takeaways from the press conference that should be hitting ledes across the Twin Cities now. Before those takeaways, a summary:

Kluwe initially publicized the allegations that Priefer said, with hostile intent that, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows,” on December 2nd in a Deadspin piece.

He further claimed that general manager Rick Spielman and then-head coach Leslie Frazier discouraged him from speaking out on social issues and had an unproductive meeting with team player development director Les Pico about Priefer’s comments shortly before being cut in May.

Priefer has vehemently denied Kluwe’s allegations, and kicker Blair Walsh—while not denying the allegations—spoke in favor of Priefer and defended his character shortly after Kluwe’s allegations were made public.

Now a few notes from the presser:

 

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