Monday, November 30, 2015

everson griffen

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The focus this week is understandably the Green Bay Packers, who will look to come to Minnesota, defeat the Vikings at a home, and pull half a game ahead in a tightly-contested NFC North divisional race. But before Lindsey and Brent break down the key offensive and defensive matchups tomorrow, I want to look back on last week’s victory over the Oakland Raiders.

While the Vikings excelled in a number of areas — the running game, pass defense, turnover differential — one stands out in particular, because it may be the key to the Vikings taking a two-game lead over the Packers — the pass rush.

Before they hosted the Vikings, Oakland’s offense line hadn’t given up a sack since Week 7 against the New York Jets. According to Football Outsiders, they’re the best pass protecting unit in the league, having allowed just 12 sacks this season (2.9% adjusted sack rate). The Vikings, though, exploited what’s been a stout group up front, combining aggressive first steps, solid technique, and Mike Zimmer’s varied looks to create confusion and havoc at the line of scrimmage.

They sacked Derek Carr twice and flushed him from the pocket a number of times, forcing the second-year quarterback into bad decisions and even poorer throws. That’s been the blueprint to beat Aaron Rodgers this season, and against the Packers’ 17th-ranked offensive line, Minnesota’s front-seven should have little trouble doing just that to No. 12.

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Since Mike Zimmer’s arrival in Minnesota, the Vikings haven’t unlocked the door to beating Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The door slammed in their faces last October, when Christian Ponder and Mike Zimmer’s young team lost 42-10 to the Packers in embarrassing fashion at Lambeau Field. It creaked open later in the year, when Teddy Bridgewater returned to the lineup and nearly beat Green Bay at home, 21-24.

Now, the key is in the Vikings’ hands, and they’re standing at the door ready to turn the handle. Sitting alone in first place and a game ahead of Green Bay, Sunday’s Week 11 matchup could be Minnesota’s greatest opportunity to win the NFC North since their historic 2009 season. To do that, though, they must stop Aaron Rodgers.

Linval Joseph spoke to reporters on Tuesday and expressed confidence as the team prepares for their toughest test yet. “He’s a very good quarterback, elite quarterback and in this league, you want to play against the best,” he said. On Sunday, Joseph will have the chance to sack Rodgers and lead the Vikings to a win. But against a quarterback like No. 12, it’ll take more than just sacks to pull out a victory. They’ll need Mike Zimmer’s best blitz packages, solid play from every cornerback, and a disciplined, yet aggressive pass rush for their eighth win of the season.

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The Minnesota Vikings don’t pass the ball particularly well (210.6 yards per game), they don’t score a ton of points (21 points per game), and they don’t have an explosive offense (5.15 yards per play). Despite their deficiencies, the Vikings are 6-2 and climbing in the NFC playoff standings. They’re tied with the Green Bay Packers for first place in the division. They’re currently on a four-game win streak. They’re the second-best scoring defense in the league. And yet, they’re three-point underdogs to the Raiders this weekend.

Why? Well, it starts with Derek Carr, who is playing the best football of his young career (19 touchdowns to just four interceptions on the year). Their offense is scoring over 26 points per game, while their defense continues to shut down opposing running backs, allowing just 97 yards per game. Though they’re 4-4, the Raiders are a team on the rise with the weapons to challenge the Vikings on offense, defense, and special teams.

Around the Internet, a mere seven of 32 experts are picking the Vikings to win on Sunday. On paper, it makes sense — the Vikings are statistically inferior to the Raiders in a number of offensive categories. If the game becomes a shootout, it’ll be difficult for Minnesota to keep up. But as they showed last week against the Chicago Bears and this week against the Rams, their strengths far outweigh their weakness. Whomever (and wherever) the Vikings play, their running attack and team defense can carry them to victory.

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The firing of Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and two offensive line coaches Monday needs no explanation; after a game that saw the Minnesota Vikings sack Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford seven times, the writing was on the wall for a staff that’s failed to meet preseason expectations. Their blocking schemes — like asking a center to peel back and blindly cut off Everson Griffen — sent Stafford to the locker room for X-Rays after the game, and eventually led to their dismissal from the team before boarding Detroit’s flight to London.

The Vikings, led by Eric Kendricks and Everson Griffen, made life miserable for Stafford after the first quarter on Sunday. According to ESPN’s Ben Goessling, six of the seven Minnesota sacks came on blitzes, and each came after the first fifteen minutes of play. Kendricks finished the day with two sacks, while Griffen’s lone takedown came on the easiest play of his life — an untouched scamper into the small of Stafford’s back. As you can see from the conveniently composed tweet below, the Lions stood no chance against Mike Zimmer’s aggressive front-seven yesterday:

After Sunday’s win, Griffen leads all Vikings defenders with 4.5 sacks, and that’s after missing last week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. In a close second? Kendricks, with four sacks, all of which have come on blitzes. Behind them, Tom Johnson, Anthony Barr, and Chad Greenway round out the top five, with two, 1.5, and 1.5 sacks respectively.

Given Mike Zimmer’s penchant for blitzing (he blitzed Stafford on 41.7 percent of his dropbacks Sunday) and the success of his pressure packages, how likely is it that the Vikings crown a new “Sack Daddy” at season’s end?

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The Vikings and Lions rematch at Ford Field

In week seven of the 2015 Season, the Vikings travel to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions – the two teams’ second contest in just five weeks. Their first encounter was in Minnesota, where the Vikings were dominant, defeating the Lions 26-16. However, the challenge for this team, and the true test this week, has been winning on the road. Though undefeated at home in 2015, the Vikings have not won a road game since October of 2014 where they barely squeaked out a win against the Buccaneers in overtime.

The Vikings are one game into a five game stretch that many people, fans and experts alike, feel the Vikings need to go 5-0 in order to prepare themselves for a gauntlet of difficult games starting Week 11 against the Packers.

Everson Griffen, who was a late scratch last week due to a last minute illness, is expected to start and perform well against an unimpressive Lions’ offensive line. However, Shariff Floyd, coming off a monster game against the Chiefs, is out with a knee/ankle injury. Shamar Stephen is also out leaving a big hole to fill in the middle of the defensive line. Backup Tom Johnson is expected to see a majority of the snaps filling in for Floyd and Stephen.

It was also reported yesterday that Adrian Peterson was dealing with an unknown illness, making him “questionable.” (Though it’s also been reported that Peterson is fully expected to play.)

Once again, I asked the staff here at Vikings Territory to give me their bold, out-of-the-box predictions for Week 7. Those predictions have been included below. Tell us which one is the most asinine and leave us your own predictions in the comments.


“Teddy Bridgewater throws for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns.” – Adam Warwas (Graphic by Brett Anderson)
“Diggs shines again, catching 2 touchdowns and leading the Vikings in receiving yards.” – Austin Belisle (Graphic by Brett Anderson)
“Theo Riddick ends the game with more receptions than Calvin Johnson.” -Brent LaBathe (Graphic by Brett Anderson)
“The Vikings stun Matthew Stafford with 3 interceptions, Xavier Rhodes getting at least one for his second career interception.” -Brian Hall (Graphic by Brett Anderson)
“The Vikings Defense finally pitches a shutout for the first time in over twenty two years.” -Carl Knowles (Graphic by Brett Anderson)
“Kendricks continues to impress with 3 sacks on Matthew Stafford” -Lindsey Young (Graphic by Brett Anderson)

*Super Bonus Prediction*

As if it weren’t crazy enough, the one and only Adam Warwas sent me a second, last-minute bold prediction. Are you ready for this one? Are you sitting down?

In his own words, “The Vikings sack Dan Orlovski twice. Yes, that means what you think it means.”

There you have it, folks. I don’t think it can get any crazier over here prior to this game. The purple-kool aid is obviously on tap and flowing freely right now. Again, make sure to give us your prediction(s) in the comments.


Final Score Prediction:

23-17 Vikings


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