Monday, February 8, 2016

joe berger

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Although the Minnesota Vikings field a top-five defense and a number of different playmakers on offense, just one player was selected to the 2016 Pro Bowl — running back Adrian Peterson. His selection, the first since 2013, was an obvious choice, as Peterson leads the league with 1,314 rushing yards and has often been the cog in Vikings victories this season.

This marks Peterson’s seventh Pro Bowl appearance and ties him with Ron Yary for fourth-most all-time in franchise history. While Peterson was the easiest choice among voting fans, players, and coaches, others could definitely be considered snubs, including center Joe Berger, nose tackle Linval Joseph, free safety Harrison Smith, and linebacker Anthony Barr. According to Pro Football Focus’s recent mock Pro Bowl roster, those four made the list, with Cordarrelle Patterson (leads the league with 31.1 yards/return) joining them as one of two kick returners.

Berger is the analytics website’s second-highest ranked center,  while Smith misses the Pro Bowl for the second straight year despite playing at an All-Pro level. Like Joseph and Barr, Smith has missed significant time with injuries, which may have hurt his case for the January 31 showcase. Barr is Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked outside linebacker, with 21 total pressures, a batted pass, and 35 defensive stops. While any of these players may be added at a later date — due to injuries or declined invites — they’re more-than-deserving at this point of the season.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

At 8-3, the Minnesota Vikings are the surprise team in the NFC and a legitimate threat to claim the NFC North division title. With the league’s second-best scoring defense and Mike Zimmer’s steady hand leading the ship, Minnesota has — at the very least — a 90 percent probability to reach the postseason.

When the Vikings lost to the San Francisco 49ers to open the season, a playoff berth appeared unlikely. The defense couldn’t stop the run, Adrian Peterson ran like a 30-year-old running back, and the offensive line looked lost without John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Mike Zimmer’s team lacked an identity early on, but they’ve slowly established themselves as one of the NFL’s most physical, technically sound teams on both sides of the ball.

As I’ve written these “What Went Right” pieces, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern. When the Vikings win, it’s because of the defense and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Specifically, the defense plays with discipline, filling run gaps correctly, tackling in space, and preventing big plays down the field. On offense, Minnesota wins when they unleash Peterson, who has at least 19 carries in every Vikings victory this season. Any less, and they’ve gone on to lose.

While the defense created turnovers against Atlanta in Week 12, it was Peterson who powered Minnesota to victory. This Sunday, when the Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks, he’ll need to do the same against an aggressive, stout run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

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(photo courtesy of Vikings.com)

After already playing (and defeating) the Detroit Lions twice, Minnesota will now face another of its conference rivals: Chicago. The Bears have certainly looked to be a less-than-stable team so far this season, and the Vikings defense should be enough to handle Jay Cutler and Co.

It cannot be ignored, however, that Cutler is an unpredictable force and on any given Sunday can be playing at one extreme or the other. The Vikings have also historically struggled at Soldier Field. Since 2000, Minnesota has won just one of the 14 road games against Chicago.

There are plenty of factors to consider about Sunday’s game, so let’s see how the two teams match up offensively.


Offensive Line

Now that it’s been all but guaranteed that John Sullivan will not return to the field in 2015, the Vikings know exactly what they’re working with long term. While it’s incredibly difficult to fill Sullivan’s shoes (or cleats, in this instance), Joe Berger has done an okay job stepping in as a veteran who isn’t naturally a center. Heading into Sunday’s game, the biggest concern might be rookie T.J. Clemmings.

While Clemmings hasn’t done too terrible of a job considering he was tossed into the fire in Phil Loadholt‘s absence, the rookie got demolished against Denver in Week 4 and may face a similar situation going up against linebacker Pernell McPhee. Clemmings looked entirely overwhelmed blocking against the Broncos, and McPhee could give him trouble.

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(photo courtesy of Vikings.com)

In Monday’s 2 p.m. press conference, head coach Mike Zimmer addressed the media and announced that center John Sullivan underwent another surgery and is “unlikely” to return during the 2015 season.

In early September, the Vikings placed Sullivan on Injured Reserve after he underwent back surgery; the team announced he was designated to return but would likely miss at least eight weeks. Sullivan hadn’t practiced since mid August due to back spasms, and it now seems the problems will be more long term than originally thought.

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(photo courtesy of Vikings.com)

It seems odd that it’s only Week 7 and the Vikings are already facing the Lions for the second and last time of the 2015 season. After beating up on Matthew Stafford and defeating Detroit 26-16 in Minneapolis Week 2, Minnesota will look to shut out its division rivals on the road Sunday.

The Lions are coming off its first win of the 2015 season, having beat Chicago last week, and you can bet they’re feeling some momentum on their end. The Vikings should prepare to face a chippy team in a must-win situation.

Lets take a look at how the Vikings offensively line up against the Lions for their second meeting.

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