Saturday, March 28, 2015
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kyle rudolph

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It wasn’t Adrian Peterson that dazzled a Pro Bowl crowd last night.  Instead, it was tight end Kyle Rudolph who was only there as an alternate selection.

Rudolph took home the Pro Bowl MVP award after catching five passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.

There is no denying that, despite the league’s best players being present for the contest, the level of competition at the Pro Bowl is never quite the same as in a meaningful NFL game.  Still, I couldn’t help watching Rudolph create mismatches by running seam routes and wonder why he isn’t used in that capacity more often within Bill Musgrave’s offense.  I know I beat that dead horse multiple times during the 2012 season, but I just couldn’t help but feel reminded one final time by Rudolph’s dominant performance on Sunday.

Rudolph wasn’t the only Vikings to see action in the exhibition game.  Adrian Peterson carried the ball five times for only 13 yards, but most notably botched an exchange with Drew Brees on the first play of the game, which was recovered by the AFC.

Peterson’s lead blocker Jerome Felton somehow managed to have a better game than Peterson which, of course, could really only happen in Hawaii.  Felton carried the ball four times for 18 yards, including a three yard touchdown.

Alternate Matt Kalil saw time at both right and left tackle, giving up a sack to Cameron Wake at one point, but otherwise playing a solid game.

Blair Walsh continued to show his ability to put points on the scoreboard with eight extra points made and by hitting field goals from 26 and 48 yards out.

On defense, Jared Allen managed one tackle and Chad Greenway had two.  Greenway also recovered a fumble.

Most importantly, the Vikings escaped the faux football game without any injuries which is an even bigger victory than the 62-35 whooping that the NFC put on the AFC.

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One of the, umm, “benefits” of not playing in the Super Bowl is that you might just qualify for a free trip to Hawaii to play in the season’s most meaningless football game.

The Vikings will be well represented during Sunday’s Pro Bowl.  We have already noted that Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Jared Allen, and Chad Greenway will be playing.

Another alternate has made the final cut, however.  Tight end Tony Gonzalez played a hard fought game, possibly his last ever, on Sunday and will not be filling his roster spot on the NFC’s all-star squad in Honolulu.

Instead, alternate Kyle Rudolph will be suiting up.

The second-year tight end recorded 53 catches for 493 yards in his second season, doubling the number of catches from his rookie season.  He was also second among NFL tight ends with nine touchdowns, tripling his total from last year.

I have had a hectic week and while I fully intended to produce a full “Preview” segment like normal, but I ran out of time.  I still wanted to get something up in advance of this game, however, as it stands to be a turning point type of matchup for this 2012 Vikings team.

It could be a turn for the best, but it could also be a turn for the worst.

Here are five items I consider to be the most important this afternoon:

1.  Time To Go To Bat

Seattle’s starting rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has, thus far in his young career, overcome the pre-Draft knock on him that he is too short.  It is time for that to stop.  Wilson has been an impressive rookie in an already impressive class of quarterbacks, but the Vikings must game plan to shut him down despite the absence of cornerback Chris Cook.

One way they can do that is to use their big defensive linemen to get into the throwing lanes and get their hands in the air.  Brian Robison put on a clinic last week in terms of batting passes, and Jared Allen and Kevin Williams have both made highlight reels in the past by doing this, so we know this isn’t an original idea for the Vikings defense.

Wilson is short.  He may be succeeding anyways, but his passes are more susceptible to being batted down at the line of scrimmage… that is just physics.  The Vikings need to give their secondary some help by employing the long arms of Robison and company this afternoon.

2.  Tackle Well, Live Longer

The Vikings cannot completely stop Seahawk’s running back Marshawn Lynch, but they can endeavor to contain him.

The “Beast” will not be contained, however, if the Vikings continue to tackle (or, perhaps, not tackle) the way they have been the last three weeks.  They missed 17 tackles last week, which resulted in Doug Martin’s monster game on Thursday Night Football.

Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, and Erin Henderson have their work cut out for them this week as they face the running back who is closest to Adrian Peterson for the NFL rushing lead.

3.  Run, Run, Run… and then Run Some More

I’m going to skip the Ponder-doubting that has overwhelmed Vikings Nation in the past few weeks.

Instead, I want to remember a Kansas City team that a few years ago won a significant amount of football game by embracing their stellar running game to the fullest.  Remember when the Chiefs ran Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones on what seemed like every down, including fourth, to move the chains in a safe and time-consuming manner?  I want to see that type of dedication to the run game with the Vikings, who are very well built to do it.

The best way to win this game, and shut up that damned 12th man, is to shove Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart down their throats for seven minutes at a time.

4.  Start Utilizing Rudolph… For Real

Second year tight end Kyle Rudolph is having a decent season, particularly in terms of touchdown catches.  However, I think there is still plenty of untapped potential here.

The Seahawks boast a number of young, high-quality cornerbacks and that could spell trouble for mediocre performers like Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins.

Getting the ball to Percy Harvin is always a must, but Rudolph needs to start being utilized more in the every down passing game.  He needs to be running seam routes and he needs to be a threat no matter where the Vikings are on the field.

Feed him the ball, Musgrave.

5.  Special Teams Must Be Special Today

Most of you probably think I’m going to talk about Percy Harvin’s returns or Blair Walsh’s big leg, and that is certainly part of it.

I think both of these teams, however, have very dangerous threats on special teams and the biggest point of emphasis needs to be the Vikings ability to play mistake-free football on the coverage unit.  Leon Washington has a habit of embarrassing opponents, and plllllease Football Gods… don’t let it be the Vikings.

PREDICTION:

I think another close one is in store for us here, and I worry about the outcome, but I still think this Vikings team will be 6-3 in a few hours.  As long as common sense is utilized by the Vikings coaching staff, and the players execute like we know they can, they can come out of this game with another win.

My prediction:  22-17, Vikings

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While the Vikings first preseason game against the 49ers wasn’t horrible, it definitely left fans wanting to see something more. A sign of improvement. A glimpse of development. Well, I think Vikings fans got that and then some as the Vikings defeated the Bills 36-14 at Mall of America Field Friday night. There was definitely more positive than negative in this week’s exhibition game. I think there may be a feeling in the air now that this team could cause more problems in the tough NFC North than given credit for by most NFL analysts. (Something I’ve been saying here for a while now). With that being said, let’s get moving on the notes and analysis I have from the second preseason game of the year. We’ll start off with a summary of the injuries suffered in yesterday’s match up.

Injuries

The Vikings managed to get through another exhibition game without any major injuries. Kyle Rudolph suffered a laceration behind his ear and was evaluated for a concussion but the tests came back negative. Chris Cook suffered a concussion on a play where he stripped the ball from a Bills receiver. Both players will be fine but I wouldn’t expect either of them to start in the next preseason game against the Chargers. If it was the regular season game, I wouldn’t be so sure. But as it is just an exhibition match up and both players are crucial to the Vikings roster, I would be surprised if Cook (Rudolph is more likely) saw playing time. Then again, it remains to be seen if Adrian Peterson will play next week so, really, who knows?

“No Huddle”

  • Let’s start off with Ponder because, let’s face it – if a certain rookie, seventh round linebacker hadn’t stole the show in the fourth quarter, the main thing we’d take away from this game is that Ponder looked excellent. He showed great accuracy, led receivers, stepped up in the pocket to make throws and was able to get away from pressure when needed. Moreover, he really just looked the part. Looked comfortable in his own skin. He had the time to go through his reads and was able to find the open man. Ponder finished the night 10-13 for 136 yards (with an almost equal passer rating) and a touchdown. Amen.
  • Jerome Simpson knows how to get high. I mean really, really high. I guess this is both a great thing and bad thing for the Vikings, though. On one hand, Simpson will go over just about anyone in an effort to get to the endzone. On the other hand, it means he’ll miss the first three games of the year. Something I saw that I thought was really awesome about the Simpson play below is how friggin’ fast Matt Kalil is. Watch the full highlight on NFL.com and notice how Kalil is seriously right behind Simpson as he flies down the field. Big guy has speed.

    (Image courtesy of SB Nation.)
  • I thought Toby Gerhart showed some great speed in Friday’s game. We’re used to seeing Gerhart plow through people to get the first down. There were a couple times though that I thought he showed great agility and burst to get through the first wave of defenders. It’s comforting knowing that even without our starred franchise player Adrian Peterson, we could still have one of the better ground attacks in the league.
  • Though Ponder was sacked twice on the opening drive, neither of them came as a result of rookie Matt Kalil being beat. Kalil, who had an above average first NFL game last week, showed us again why he was worth a fourth overall pick.
  • On the second offensive drive, the Vikings managed to come away with a field goal thanks to rookie kicker Blair Walsh after the drive stalled in front of the Bills’ goal line. I think it’s worth noting though that, if it was a regular season game, we probably would have been forced to punt instead. The Vikings went for it on fourth and short near midfield and got a first down allowing them to continue the drive… It’s unlikely they take that risk in the regular season.
  • I really don’t care for flea flickers (unless they work, of course). They just take too long to develop and I rarely see them end well. The Vikings attempted to run a flea flicker during their second offensive drive and the play ended up incomplete as Ponder was forced out of the pocket and had to throw it out of bounds down field. The pressure came from the left side after Matt Kalil basically stopped blocking Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay. Not sure what happened on that play… But again, flea flickers… They just don’t do it for me.
  • The real test for rookie kicker Blair Walsh will come when the Vikings are down by 2 at Lambeau Field with five seconds left on the clock. With that being said, he had another great game, Friday. Not only was he booming kick offs again (the guy managed to put one through the uprights on a kick off) but he was nailing difficult field goals. Walsh accounted for half of the Vikings 38 points against the Bills and was 5/6 on field goals. The kick he missed was from about 47 yards out and was wide right. With that being said, he also nailed another 47 yard field goal right down the middle later in the game.
  • Harrison Smith seemed to have a pretty good game. He only had a couple stand out plays – one of which being a beautiful blitz where he batted a throw down at the line. More importantly though, he didn’t have any biffs that I noticed. I guess it’s a good thing when you aren’t constantly hearing a safeties name because typically it means they are being beat, missing tackles, etc… I think it’s safe to say that Smith has secured a starting spot on the roster this year. Now we’ll just have to see who starts beside him. Personally, my vote is for Mistral Raymond after Friday’s game. Raymond was on fire and definitely made a statement after struggling last week (and publicly being called out for it by the front office) against the 49ers.
  • Chris Carr and Eric Frampton. Yikes, these guys looked bad.
  • Josh Robinson didn’t look spectacular but he also wasn’t glaringly bad. Which, I guess, is about as much as you could ask for from a rookie in his first game coming off of a hamstring injury. He did get beat on a bomb down the left side of the field but his blazing speed allowed him to catch back up with defender and put some pressure on him causing an incompletion. He also had a dropped interception but at the very least managed to interrupt the ball in the air.
  • Joe Webb has another impressive game as a running back. As a quarterback? Not so much… With that being said, I’m starting to feel like maybe I’m not giving Joe Webb a fair shot? While I do think he is inaccurate, unable to read a defense and prefers to run first when there is any sign of pressure, he is working with the second stringers. And from everything I’ve seen in preseason, there is a huge disparity between the starters and the back ups. Yet, the fact remains that I just don’t think Webb can be a starting quarterback for this team. If he could look as comfortable throwing as he does sprinting down the field, he would look like Peyton Manning. But the fact is Joe Webb was never a quarterback and I’m still convinced that he is not one. Not an an NFL level anyway.
  • When the Vikings drafted Jarius Wright I was pumped. As some of you know, I spent a good amount of time “scouting” the receivers in this past draft class and Wright was one of my later-round favorites for the Vikings. While some just consider him a “poor man’s Percy Harvin,” I thought he could be much more than that. Not only does he have the speed, agility and evasiveness of a great slot receiver, but, in my opinion, he has the breakaway speed that could make him a deep threat (despite his short stature)and a threat in the return game. Unfortunately for Wright, though, he hasn’t really stood out much this preseason so far. And I’m not sure if it’s because maybe he’s not as good as I thought he was or he just hasn’t really had the opportunity yet. Wright hasn’t been targeted much as a receiver so far. In fact, he didn’t have a single catch against the Bills. You know who did have a reception, though? Fourteen other players! That has to be kind of scary if you’re Jarius Wright. He really needs to show in the next two games why he deserves to be on this team and what he’s capable of. Wright also hasn’t gotten a real opportunity on any returns yet either as most of the punts he’s been back to receive ended in a fair catch.
  • Matt Asiata, who the Vikings are looking at as a potential fullback, looked really great to me. In fact, I think he could potentially be someone the team looks out to add depth at running back. The guy showed great speed and vision. Asiata had a couple of big gains on the ground where he looked much quicker and more agile than your typical full back.
  • Other than a long, perfectly passed bomb to Emmanuel Arceneaux, Sage Rosenfels didn’t really do much to show why he should be the second QB on this roster. Then again, I’m not sure he really cares much as he is a [very] veteran player who was likely just brought back to provide an experienced perspective at the position. What do I know, though? Maybe he’s dying to have an opportunity to get back on the field if Ponder goes down during the year. If that’s the case though, he’s got some more work to do.
  • Audie Cole. Audie, freakin’ Cole. He’s all anyone is talking about after having two interceptions for touchdowns within 16 seconds or so in the fourth quarter. It definitely added a spark to an otherwise pedestrian second half. I don’t know that I would go as far as anointing him as the steal of the draft, though. Let’s not forget that he was going up against Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith – the fourth “quarterback” on the Bills roster. (And I use the term quarterback loosely, here.)  Both quarterbacks basically made the same horrible read two times in a row and Audie Cole just managed to capitalize on it. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t think what Cole managed to do was easy or undeserving of recognition. If anything, I think it should definitely earn him some more playing time to see what else he can do. But a guaranteed spot on the roster? I’m not so sure…

1. Schwartz Sports Hernia

Joe Oberle of CBS Sports reported yesterday that Geoff Schwartz suffered an abdominal injury Friday at practice. Schwartz was sent back to the Twin Cities to have some tests done. The tests came back showing Schwartz has a sports hernia surgery. He is set to undergo surgery and will likely be out of the action 4-6 weeks. Geoff Schwartz, in my opinion, was one of the better signings of the offseason and the right guard position was shaping up to be a well fought for spot on the roster. Now, it is likely Schwartz competition for the spot, Brandon Fusco, will get the nod to start.

2. Vikings Sign New Guard

Apparently, the Vikings offensive line is in worst shape than I thought. According to this article at Star Tribune, the Vikings are dealing with several injuries up front – Pat Brown (knee), Kevin Murphy (heat-related illness), DeMarcus Love (shoulder) and Geoff Schwartz (see above).

As a result of these injuries, the Vikings have signed some help for the line – Grant Cook, a rookie from Arkansas. The Vikings let undrafted rookie defensive end Eric Latimore to make room for Cook on the roster. Cook originally signed with the Packers as an undrafted rookie but was released by Green Bay late last month.

Cook should feel a little more at home with two fellow rookie Razorback alums on the Vikings roster – wide receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs.

3. Josh Robinson Returns

The fastest man in this year’s draft class, Josh Robinson, returned to practice after pulling his hamstring while trying to cover rookie wide receiver Jarius Wright the first day of training camp. Robinson wasn’t heavily involved in practice and instead just ran some individual drills. But still, the fact that he’s back on the field is a good sign.

4. Alan William’s Plans For The Defense And Jared Allen’s Disapproval

New Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said in a press conference that he plans to use a “hockey-style philosophy with his defensive line.” In other words, he wants to frequently swap players on the defensive line out to always have a fresh front four. As you can probably imagine, Jared Allen (you know, the guy that played 99.9% of snaps last season) wasn’t ecstatic about the news. Allen told reporters that he had heard nothing about this new defensive scheme and that if it was actually implemented, he would fight it to remain on the field as much as possible. What did Leslie Frazier have to say?

“Believe me, we’ve talked about this a number of times. So contrary to what Mr. Allen had to say, we’ve talked about this subject. We’re going to try to keep our guys fresh. We want him fresh. He knows. We talked about it even this morning. We always go into it every season talking about we’re going to try to cut his reps down. And then lo-and-behold, it doesn’t always work that way … We’re going to play him but we are going to try to get him off the field when we can and make sure he’s fresh in those key moments. It does a disservice to him and our team if we play him every snap. And then when we need him in key situations, he’s fatigued. That’s just not smart. We’re going to try to manage that. We did a pretty good job of it at times a season ago. We need to do more of it and we’re going to make a concerted effort to try to get him off the field at times. Without hurting the team. We don’t want to hurt the team. He’s our best pass rusher, one of the best in the NFL.”

5. Greg Childs Impresses and His Injury

Let’s start off with the good news first: Rookie wide receiver Greg Childs has looked pretty good so far during training camp. He’s made a number of really good grabs and looked like he could potentially see some playing time in four or five-wide sets this season. Childs even had a really great highlight grab the other day in practice (check out the video below).

And now, for the bad news. Unfortunately, that may be the last highlight we see from Childs for a while as last night he tore the patellar tendon in both knees during a scrimmage. Yes, you read that correctly – both knees. The Vikings released the following statement: “Greg Childs suffered a torn patellar tendon on his right and left knees last night. He is expected to have them surgically repaired within the next few days.”

It is likely Childs will miss the entire season.

6. Kyle Rudolph. Best Tight End In The NFC North?

Kyle Rudolph continues to gather steam as training camp continues. It is obvious him and Christian Ponder have developed a great chemistry. That coupled with the fact that he has all the physical skills to be special and because he’s on an offense that plans on heavily relying on tight ends could mean a break out year for the sophomore tight end. His performance in training camp already has Kevin Seifert from ESPN.com asking if Kyle Rudolph could be “as good as any player at his position in the NFC North.”

 7.  Guys Off To Great Starts

Mike Wobschall (also known as Wobby) has done a great job covering training camp this year. In this post on the Vikings.com blog, Wobby lists 10 Vikings players who are off to a great start. Who made the list? Some of the more surprising names are CB Bobby Felder, DT Letroy Guion, TE Rhett Ellison and RB Derrick Coleman. Kyle Rudolph, Matt Kalil, Antoine Winfield, Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Chad Greenway and Rick Spielman (?) also make the list.  Head over to Vikings.com to check it out and see Wobby’s reasoning.

8. Doleman In Canton

Chris Doleman was inducted into the Hall of Fame last night. The Vikings Age has a good summary of Doleman’s career that you might like to check out. You can also head over to NFL.com if you’d like to see video of Doleman’s induction speech.

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