Tuesday, May 24, 2016

NFL

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Xavier Rhodes shutdown corner
Photo courtesy of Vikings.com

When the 2014 season came to a close, Xavier Rhodes looked poised for stardom. After an up-and-down rookie campaign—par for the course for NFL defensive backs, even first round picks—Rhodes took a dramatic leap in year two, improving his coverage skills significantly and becoming known as a pass break-up machine. Pro Football Focus rated him as the NFL’s 14th-best corner that year—not Revis status, but a nice ascension for a second-year player. Fueling the narrative of a player on the rise, Rhodes had a downright dominant four-game stretch late in the season in which he allowed only seven catches and a 22.2 passer rating for opposing quarterbacks.

Rhodes blossomed under the tutelage of head coach Mike Zimmer in 2014, Zimmer’s first year at the helm for the Vikings. Zimmer is, of course, known for his defensive pedigree, and it seemed like he was quickly molding Rhodes into a complete, number one corner. The thought after Rhodes’ sophomore season was that, based on his enormous progress in year two, 2015 would be the year he developed into a legitimate shutdown corner, able to shadow the opposing team’s top receiver on a weekly basis.

That hasn’t exactly happened.

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(image courtesy of Vikings.com)

The Vikings are coming off a big win over Atlanta and have plenty of momentum rolling into Week 13 to face Seattle. That being said, the Seahawks are also coming in strong, having won four of their last five games. Both teams have had their share of up and down games in 2015, and the experts this week are divided on which squad will take the “W.”

Let’s take a look at how Minnesota’s offense will match up against its opponents.


Offensive Line

After a less-than-impressive performance Week 11 against Green Bay, the offensive line played better last week. Only one of Minnesota’s nine penalties was attributed to the line (T.J. Clemmings), and the unit’s blocking was improved as well. Teddy Bridgewater escaped the game without being sacked, and Adrian Peterson had a big running game.

Despite losing original starters Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan, the patchwork offensive line has now been playing together for a long time, and consistency is key. Seattle’s No. 4 defense will be no easy match up, and the Vikings will be facing defensive end Cliff Avril, who leads the Seahawks with 7.5 sacks this season, and fellow defensive end Michael Bennett (6.5 sacks). Overall, the team has 27 sacks on the year. Clemmings had a difficult time against Denver earlier this season, and Seattle could pose a similar challenge to the rookie.

Bottom line (as always): the offensive line will need to be on its toes Sunday and will set the tone of the game early on.

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(image courtesy of Vikings.com)
Vikings Injury Report
NamePositionInjuryWed.Thur.Fri. Status
Griffen, EversonDEHip/ShoulderDNPDNPLimitedQuestionable
Smith, HarrisonSKneeDNPDNPLimitedQuestionable
Waynes, TraeCBAnkle________LimitedDNPQuestionable
Barr, AnthonyLBHandFullFullFullProbable
Blanton, RobertSAnkleLimitedFullFullProbable
Bridgewater, TeddyQBLeft ShoulderFullFullFullProbable
Floyd, SharrifDTAnkleLimitedFullFullProbable
Kalil, MattTToeLimitedFullFullProbable
Kendricks, EricLBRibsFullFullFullProbable

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(image courtesy of vikings.com)

After a Blair Walsh overtime win against St. Louis last week, the Vikings are now 6-2 and tied with Green Bay to lead the NFC North division. The Packers play the Lions this week, which will most likely be another win for Green Bay, so it’s even more important for the Vikings to come away with a victory Sunday.

The Raiders are No. 2 behind Denver in the AFC West division with a 4-4 record. They are coming off a narrow loss to Pittsburgh and will be hungry for a win at home. Derek Carr is averaging 262 passing yards per game and has 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions on the season. Add in the speed and hands of rookie receiver Amari Cooper, and Oakland is no easy contest. Don’t forget, Minnesota is also going against its former offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave.

Most experts are choosing the Raiders over the Vikings, so Mike Zimmer and his team have something to prove. Lets take a look at how Minnesota’s offense will match up against its opponents in Week 10.


Offensive Line

The offensive line allowed only one sack against Teddy Bridgewater last week, although he did receive a decent amount of pressure. There have been pros and cons for the line all season, one of the positives being that the unit has reduced the number of penalties committed after last year. The Vikings as a whole are the least-penalized team in the NFL; as Denver’s Aqib Talib found out last week, penalties can prove significant to a game’s outcome. With Joe Berger looking to be the starting center through the rest of the season in John Sullivan‘s absence, the offensive line has been working to hold its own.

While Oakland used to be known for its defense, the team currently ranks No. 30 in the league (above only the Saints and the Giants). Protecting Bridgewater and blocking against the Raiders will not be like defending the Rams or Broncos, and Minnesota’s O-Line should do well in this situation. The Raiders’ largest threat is linebacker Malcolm Smith; Smith has 59 tackles (50 solo) and three sacks on the season thus far. The line will need to contain Smith in order to keep Minnesota in the game offensively.

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(photo courtesy of vikings.com)

Adam: Linval Joseph, DT
This one is easy, to me. It doesn’t matter if you are his teammate or his opponent. There are no excuses about injuries to the guy next to him. There is no matchup too tough. Analytical types are every bit as high on him as a casual observer. He is disruptive, impacting both the run and the pass, and his impact has been as consistent as anybody on this defense… and there are plenty of consistent producers on this defense. Mid-season? I say Joseph is the clearest Pro Bowler on this team, without a doubt.

Brent: Anthony Barr, LB
Trying to stray from the pack here a little bit as the obvious answer is Harrison Smith, and rightfully so. Smith has been dominant in 2015, and I believe should be in consideration as the best safety in the league. That said, Barr plays a massive role in the Vikings defense and goes into Sunday’s game as the 3rd-highest-rated linebacker by PFF standards. Looking at Barr statistically, you note that he is second on the team in tackles, has a fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks and an INT. Not bad for a second-year linebacker some feared would be slow to adapt to the NFL level. What isn’t noted in Barr’s stats is his role he plays bringing pressure on the ‘A’ gap that has become so popular in Mike Zimmer’s defense. He might not always blitz, but his presence is enough for quarterbacks to be ever aware of where No. 55 is.

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