Friday, October 9, 2015

jerrick mckinnon

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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, the Vikings punished the San Diego Chargers behind a strong running attack and consistent quarterback pressure from the defensive line.

These Minnesota Vikings have the look of a certain team approximately 1,660 miles to the West — the Seattle Seahawks. Before you comment or tweet in outrage, hear me out, because the similarities are too obvious to ignore.

Like their counterparts in the Pacific Northwest, the Vikings are built to succeed through two fundamental concepts; a strong running game and a fast, aggressive defense. General manager Rick Spielman’s draft strategies and recent free agent signings have helped him achieve the look and feel of the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, from the secondary to depth at running back.

That starts with Harrison Smith, who through three games is already considered the league’s best safety, per Pro Football Focus. He’s this team’s Earl Thomas, a “quarterback of the defense” who can cover sideline to sideline and attack the line of scrimmage in run support. At linebacker, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, and Eric Kendricks exemplify many of the same traits that make Seattle’s mid-level defenders so dangerous — speed, versatility to blitz or cover, and instincts.

Beyond those position groups, the Vikings’ greatest defensive strength starts at the line of scrimmage. Everson Griffen is the anchor of the group, a force against the run and an elite edge rusher. He plays a similar role to the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who lines up across the defensive line and is by far Seattle’s most consistent rusher, having tallied seven sacks in 2014. Joining Griffen are Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, and two of the league’s best interior linemen — Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph.

With a mix of double A-Gap blitzes, suffocating coverage from the secondary, and aggressive play from the front seven, Mike Zimmer’s defense passes the eye test. Like the Seahawks, they fly to the football and are an opportunistic bunch who have forced six turnovers through three games in 2015.

On the offensive side of the football, the Vikings are taking the Marshawn Lynch approach to moving the football, and fortunately, have the running back to do so. Adrian Peterson, the original “Beast Mode,” leads the league with 291 yards on the ground and in the past two games, rushed the ball 49 times. Last season, the Seahawks ran the football 53.63 percent of the time, and this year, the Vikings are on pace to surpass that. They’re rushing on 54.88 percent of their offensive snaps, taking the football out of Teddy Bridgewater’s hands and forcing defenses to commit to the run.

Hopefully, as they did for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl runs, the defense’s loaded boxes open up opportunities in the passing game. Russell Wilson, for example, finished the 2014 season with 3,475 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in an offense tailored to the running game. When we take Teddy Bridgewater’s statistics through three games and extrapolate them to project a 16-game season, we get the following: 2,693 yards, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. Underwhelming, yes, but Bridgewater is operating behind Adrian Peterson in Norv Turner’s offense, and he hasn’t been forced to win games with his arm.

As long as the formula — suffocating defense and a run-heavy offense — are leading to victories, the Vikings should stick to the plan. A similar one took the Seahawks to multiple Super Bowls, and the Vikings have a chance to get there very soon. If last week’s win over the Chargers was any indication, they’ve fully embraced this winning identity.

After the jump, Ill dive deeper into their performance and the building blocks being put into place for a successful playoff run.

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So much has changed since November 4, 2007. The Metrodome is gone, soon to be replaced by the Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. LaDainian Tomlinson, the league’s leading rusher that year, has since retired and joined the crew at NFL Network. And the Vikings finally have a legitimate starting quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater.

One thing, however, remains the same. Despite a number of obstacles — a terrifying knee injury, last season’s year-long suspension, and a bitter contract dispute — Adrian Peterson will line up in the Vikings’ backfield when Minnesota hosts the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Why is November 4, 2007 so important? It was Adrian Peterson’s explosive introduction to the NFL, a 30-carry, 296-yard performance that set the league’s all-time record for rushing yards in a single game. The rookie and seventh-overall selection out of Oklahoma had already put together a 224-yard outing against the Chicago Bears in Week 5, but took his game to another level against the Chargers.

“It was a like from the beginning of the game, he was on a different level. He was running at a different speed,” Tomlinson told Chris Tomasson in a recent interview. “He was playing at a different level than what our defense was playing then.

As the Vikings prepare for the Chargers this week, all eyes are on Adrian Peterson, who will try to elevate his game a second time and break a still-standing record from eight years ago.

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Antone Exum, Jr.
It’s no secret that the Vikings don’t have a hard-and-fast guarantee at safety other than Harrison Smith. Smith has been a top roster member since joining the team, and as long as he stays healthy, you know he’ll stay put in the starting lineup. Who will play opposite, him, though?

Although it looks like Robert Blanton is currently first in line as he got plenty of reps with the first team during OTA’s, Exum, Jr. had some impressive plays last season and could definitely be in the running to play across from Smith. I have some issues with Blanton’s tackling, and I wouldn’t say that he’s a shoo-in.

Zach Line

With Jerome Felton heading to Buffalo (I still wonder if he regrets that decision now that AP will be with the Vikings), Zach Line has a huge opportunity ahead of him. Line is currently projected as the starting fullback for Minnesota, and I’m a believer that he’ll be an excellent fit there. Line impressed me last season, continuing to work hard and fulfill whatever role he was given on the team, including practice squad. The Southern Methodist alum makes an impact at practice, and the Vikings are obviously confident in his abilities to slide into that main roster spot. If Line and Peterson can work well together and build some chemistry, this could be Line’s breakout season.

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If Bradley Randle  becomes an NFL player with a great and long career it won’t be because it came easy.  If he doesn’t, it won’t be because he didn’t feel the love from the fans in Minnesota.

The little firecracker of a running back should consider giving lessons to other professional athletes on how to gain popularity within a fan base.  By being incredibly accessible to the fans via Twitter, and always willing to talk about Vikings football with the little guys (like us), Randle quickly became a favorite of Vikings fans despite never seeing regular season action.

The Vikings invested a third round selection on running back Jerrick McKinnon after retaining Matt Asiata.  The even sniffed around the likes of LaRod Stephens-Howling according to the rumor mill.  After the Draft, the Vikings wasted little time in cutting Randle loose, which resulted in an outpouring of disappointment from Vikings fans.

As if being released (again) by the Vikings weren’t enough to see Randle look elsewhere for a contract, surely watching them draft a young running back would have him facing facts, right?  Well, apparently not.

Randle continued to make himself a hero to Vikings fans on Tuesday when he revealed he actually turned down a tryout opportunity with the Packers because of his love for the Vikings.

The kid either has reason to believe he will be rejoining the Vikings again soon or he is truly a rebel like his Twitter handle suggests.  Perhaps maybe, just maybe, he’s just a little insane.

Whatever the case may be, though, he is certainly loyal and continuing to earn brownie points with the purple faithful.

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