Saturday, February 13, 2016

brian robison

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In this weekly series of articles, I’ll be breaking down what went RIGHT or what went WRONG each game for the Minnesota Vikings. This week, thanks to a turnaround victory over the Detroit Lions, I’ll be focusing on the positives and what the Vikings can build on moving forward this season.

In the NFL, game plans can and do change on a weekly basis. Against a team like the San Francisco 49ers, stopping the run has to be a defense’s number one priority — though that’s not always the result. When playing the Detroit Lions, for example, teams put a premium on shutting down Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Matthew Stafford’s other receiving weapons.

On the offensive side of the ball,  finding a balance between running and passing is ideal. Depending on the defense or specific one-on-one matchups, that can change. Take the New England Patriots in Week 2 — Tom Brady threw the ball 59 times against the Buffalo Bills and shredded Rex Ryan’s defense. Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins rushed the ball 37 times against the St. Louis Rams, riding the legs of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones to a victory.

A look at the Vikings’ first three offensive plays from both games illustrates this variation perfectly:

  • (9:19) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete short right to J.Wright.
  • (9:13) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to C.Johnson (T.Brock).
  • (9:07) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete deep left to J.Wright [A.Lynch].

The Vikings started their first offensive drive on San Francisco’s 26-yard line after a blocked field goal and Andrew Sendejo return, but couldn’t capitalize on the premium field position. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner scripted running plays, but Teddy Bridgewater checked into passes based on the defense’s alignment and coverage. After missing Jarius Wright in the flat and misfiring on two deep balls, Bridgewater and the offense watched Blair Walsh push a 44-yard field goal — giving the ball right back to the 49ers.

Against the Lions, Turner’s first few offensive calls — downhill, inside zone runs — illustrated his plan to feed Adrian Peterson early and often:

  • (14:55) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 25 for no gain (E.Ansah).
  • (14:26) A.Peterson left tackle to MIN 36 for 11 yards (G.Quin, E.Ansah).
  • (13:57) A.Peterson up the middle to MIN 38 for 2 yards (J.Jones).

In the first quarter alone, Peterson had 13 carries and surpassed his game total of 10 rushes from the previous week. The offensive line established itself against the Lions from the start and Peterson set the tone on the team’s first drive. He looked more patient, more decisive, putting together 11-yard and 25-yard runs as the Vikings marched down the field for their first touchdown.

Special players make special plays, as evidenced by Adrian Peterson’s ability to turn the corner and outrun edge defenders, but their success wouldn’t be possible without the development of effective game plans. From an offense’s first scripted plays to a defense’s blitzes and pre-determined coverages (Xavier Rhodes shadowing Calvin Johnson,) the Vikings’ preparation is key to a victory each week. After the jump, I’ll take a look at some of that preparation (and a few individual performances) that highlight how the Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions in Week 2

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Two weeks into the NFL season, it’s hard to make overarching judgements or statements on a particular player or team. For the Minnesota Vikings, an ugly Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was just that — a small blemish in a 16-game slate. That’s why head coach Mike Zimmer, he of short tongue and temper, took a different approach to his team’s preparation before Sunday’s matchup with the Detroit Lions.

Rather than lay into his players on a short week, Zimmer encouraged the Vikings to focus their energy and attention on the Lions. “We’re going to let that game go,” he told the team last Wednesday, according to the Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel. And let it go they did, winning a convincing, dominating game yesterday against the division rival Lions.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who shouldered much of the blame last week, spoke to reporters after the game and shared how Zimmer’s criticism motivated him to step up his play on the field:

“Definitely, and I love it that Coach Zimmer is tough on me. He’s tough on all of the guys and it just shows that he cares about us. He wants us to give our all and play at our best every week. Last week we didn’t execute the way we were supposed to, but this week we did a great job of putting last week in the past and coming out and starting fast today.”

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The Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings are days away from trimming the 90-man roster down to 75 after the Dallas preseason game and then the final 53 — after the fifth and final exhibition at Tennessee — as the 2015 campaign begins.

Since my mock draft skills are itching to get out, I did a mock 53-man roster and practice squad prediction/projection/forecast. Enjoy! (Also please be quick to tell me where I’m wrong, suck, and am terrible.)

5 Teddy Bridgewater
13 Shaun Hill
I think this makes the most sense to keep 2 QBs on the roster & toss the kid Heinicke (who has shown some promise in spurts) on the practice squad. Also I think Teddy’s done enough to stay off the 53-man bubble…

Even after knowing about Brian Robison’s new haircut, it’s a little weird seeing it in person after getting use to it trailing behind him for so many years. It’s not unusual to see the well-coiffed defensive end braving something new. After switching to a new defensive scheme under a new head coach, Robison is confident the team will improve.

“We have high expectations for the team this year and I feel like we can get a lot done this year,” he said. “I think we can [make a long run into the playoffs. You go and look at the roster, we have a lot of talent, we’re a young team.”

Those expectations are not unusual for the Vikings, however, who have been picked by a number of teams as dark horses to make the playoffs and challenge for the NFC North. That’s not where the optimism comes from, though. Those external source of optimism haven’t made their way into the meeting rooms or practice field.

“We don’t really know what’s going on externally, we’re trying to keep everything inside the building trying to worry about what we need to get done to be successful this year.”

That sort of confidence doesn’t come without a commitment to work, however. “Talking about it is one thing, but actually doing it on the field is another,” he emphasized. “At the end of the day, what you see on paper is only what you see on paper. You have to put it on tape, you have to put it on the field. We’re just going to take it one play at a time. We’ll see how we’ll progress.”

Even getting on to the field as early as possible was a goal for Robison, who suffered a partial pectoral tear early in the offseason.

“I was telling the guys, it’s funny when you’re not able to play football, you wanna do everything you can to be back on the field. A lot of times you come out here and start practicing and the heat and everything—augh, go back to rehab—but a bottom line is you never wanna do that rehab because you’re always looking over at the field and seeing the guys playing and you miss that camaraderie and competitiveness, so I’m just excited to get back.

“You’ve got to embrace the suck.”

That’s one step in a long process to improve the team. 7-9 isn’t acceptable for a squad with playoff aspirations, and if they want to take the next step this year, they’ll have to improve in big ways. A lot of that will come through refocusing the efforts of the defense, specifically to stop the run. Ranked 25th in run defense DVOA, a Football Outsiders metric, keying in on those runs has been something Mike Zimmer has emphasized this offseason in order to improve the overall outlook of the team.

It’s something Robison takes pride in as well.

“I think it’s big time for us,” he said of run defense. “If we could have stopped the run a couple of games, would have allowed us to pin our ears back and get after the passer. That’s going to be one big-time emphasis this camp, is to make sure we get better at our run game and that’s defensive line, linebackers, safety, cornerbacks… it’s the whole defense as a unit.”

That sort of improvement, they hope, will allow them not just to contain the teams that use the run to establish their offense, but also allow them to be unafraid of rushing high-level passers like Aaron Rodgers. But beyond making sure the individual players and the unit as a whole dedicate themselves to stopping the run, the talent on the team needs to grow, too. That’s something Robison is looking forward to.

Behind Robison on the depth chart is Scott Crichton, and Robison thinks the Oregon State product has made big strides. “He’s been great. All those guys are important to us because they need to add depth to our defense, and the more depth they have, the better it will be for our team. It allows us to get more of a rotation, things like that, which allows us to stay fresh in the fourth quarter, which may allow us to win more ballgame.

“I think with him, he was a little bit behind the eight-ball, having to stay at Oregon State before he got here,” Robison said. “And now that he’s had a whole year under his belt. He knows the system better. Now that he had a whole OTAs, that experience you get is valuable so, I think for him it’s helped improve his game tremendously.”

With Robison and fellow defensive end Everson Griffen having played 85 percent of the snaps at their position—over 930 for each of them—that could be the key to making those defensive strides. Robison doesn’t know if the plan is to increase the rotation, but don’t be surprised.

“I want to be out there every single play that I can. But, we all know that when you have a healthy rotation, you can stay fresher throughout the year and throughout the game. For me, I’m just going ot make sure when I’m out there, I’m going to give it everything I got. If coach tells me to come off, let another guy step in and that’s the way it’s gotta be.”

Robison isn’t worried that refocusing on run defense, a bigger emphasis for defensive ends under Mike Zimmer than in most schemes, will change how people perceive his play. “I think it can [change how people see us], but bottom line is that it doesn’t matter; we’re trying to win. Bottom line is we were 7-9 last year and we’re not trying to do that again. We wanna make sure we’re a playoff team and we’re a contender once we get in the playoffs.”

Having a second year with Zimmer should help, too. “Once you get to know a guy, once you get to know your coaches, you kinda… you know what to expect coming into the second year. I think we kinda know how the flow of things will go throughout this training camp and we’ll be better for it because now we know what to expect, and we can go right at it without having to go through all the little teaching steps and stuff like that.”

It’ll be up to Robison to execute on that positivity, but there’s no shortage of confidence on the defensive line. Maybe getting used to a second year under Mike Zimmer will give him that familiarity. He might get used to it faster than I will to his shorter hair.

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At exactly 10:30 this morning — head coach Mike Zimmer runs a tight ship — injured Minnesota Vikings Brian Robison, Captain Munnerlyn, and Phil Loadholt will return to practice, taking part in the team’s first walkthrough since June’s minicamp activities. Their recoveries from a handful of injuries are a positive sign as the Vikings begin training camp in Mankato, Minnesota.

During his press conference yesterday, Mike Zimmer addressed the status of Robinson, who strained his pectoral muscle in May while working out at Winter Park. At the time of his injury, Robison told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that he’d be “OK”, but fans still worried about the eight-year veteran. At 32-years-old, many have speculated if Robison can continue to be productive on the field, especially after a disappointing 2014 season on it. When asked if Robison will be ready, Zimmer kept it short and sweet, as only Zimmer can:

“I do.”

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