Tag Archives: Harrison Smith

2013 NFL Draft: Vikings Try Not To Over Think It

Thursday night in New York City the Minnesota Vikings made the most noise in what was billed as a pretty vanilla first round.

The Vikings brass got an unexpected surprise with their first pick, stuck with the script on a second pick, and made a big move for a third pick.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Floyd terrorized the SEC for three years, he will look to do the same in his new home in the NFC Norse Division.

Defensive tackle Shariff Floyd was the big surprise of the evening. Mr. Floyd was supposed to be a top 5 pick. Then, after he did not go in the top 5, the draftniks were certain some team would get a great value in the middle of the first round. It was such a Pipe Dream that the Vikings would land him with their 23rd pick that we did not even think to include him in the Pipe Dream Category of our NFL Draft Preview. Somehow, the breaks went our way and he dropped all the way to us with the 23rd pick. You almost wonder if, when something like this happens, where a top pick starts to drop, if other GMs start to over think it. That crowd mentality where it is like, well, if they are not taking him, maybe there is something we missed in our evaluation. Supposedly, the knock on him is that he has short arms. Seriously, kid lost $10+ million last night because he has T-Rex arms. Talk about a bummer for him.

What is truly odd is that wingspan is really not that important of a measurable for a defensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman. It is more important that you have a strong base…check…quickness…check…and have strong hands…check. If you watch the highlights, Floyd does a great job of maintaining his gap presence and eating up blockers. Coming into college, he was a defensive end and that quickness is still there even though he plays inside now. Plus, he has a little nasty to him that all great defensive linemen need to have. And, that nastiness is only going to increase after more than two-thirds of the league passed on him in last night’s draft. Even though it was a bit of a no-brainer, the Vikings did not over think it and truly nailed this pick.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine's replacement on the edge.

The Vikings hope that Xavier Rhodes can step in and be Antoine’s replacement on the edge.

With their second pick in the first round, the Vikings stuck to their script and selected Xavier Rhodes, a defensive back from Florida State who was also supposed to have been drafted. This former wide receiver plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is very strong against the run and should be a perfect fit in the Vikings Cover 2 system. With his size and ball skills, he should be a very good Antoine replacement, if not something more.

Rhodes is still a bit slow in recognizing routes and jumping plays, though the Vikings Cover 2 should help him in that regard. Plus, he is very strong against the run, can blitz off the corner with the best of them, and should only improve his coverage skills. Following Antoine’s departure, the Vikings’ foolishly thin secondary, I think Orlando Thomas was on the depth chart somewhere, needed a boost. So, it was not a shock that the Vikings selected Rhodes. And clearly the Vikings believed that corner back was a bigger position of need than ILB. Particularly with SEC stud and BR-favorite Alec Ogletree still on the board at 25, the move to get a corner back might be a little controversial. But, shoring up the secondary was deemed the greater priority, so that makes this the right choice.

It is the Vikings third pick of the first round that caused so much stir at the draft on Thursday night. For the second consecutive year, the Vikings traded back into the first round to take a player they wanted. Last year it Vikings moving back to draft All-Dude safety, Harrison Smith. The price for that move was their second and fourth round picks. This year, the big move was trading with New England and the Hoodie to take play maker Cordarelle Patterson. The price was the Vikings’ second, third, fourth, and seventh round picks.

Now, that may seem like a lot. In fact, it probably is a lot. But, the Vikings had 11 picks in this year’s draft. Trading four picks, even second and third round picks, for a guy that graded out as one of the top receivers in this draft, is not a bad deal. At worst, Patterson is a better than average return man and a change-of-pace wide receiver who makes explosive plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Think a Diet Percy Harvin. At best, he takes the role former played by Percy and runs with it. His height and jumping ability, which are ideal, make him more of a true wide receiver than Percy was, but he also has that burstability (patent pending) in small spaces.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The Vikings are hoping Jennings can put his Yoda mask on and impart his route running skills on the rookie Patterson. Beat the jam and a score a touchdown we will.

The knock on Patterson is that he is not a great route-runner. This is where having a veteran like Greg Jennings is so critical. Jennings is one of the best in league at laying down tracks. And, he has already shown he is a solid teacher of that elite skill (see Cobb, Randall and Jones, James). If Patterson can learn from Jennings like Cobb and Jones did in Green Bay, watch out, this kid could be special.

Normally, this is the spot where we would preview the Day 2 action. However, because of the Vikings big move for Patterson, the Vikings do not currently possess a pick on Day 2. Though, as they have already shown, they are not afraid to make a move. Depending on what happens, I would not be surprised to see them package up their fourth, fifth, and a seventh round picks to get back into the 2nd or 3rd round. Particularly if they are as high on a guy like Te’o or the Honey Badger as the whispers around town suggest they are. Either way, if it is even half as fun as last night was, it should be a blast.

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Rube vs. Roob: Playoffs Edition

Well ladies and gentlemen, AP has forced a Game 3. The bitter rivals face off again in another playoff matchup – and this time, under the bright lights of Saturday Night Football. After an instant classic this past Sunday, the two teams play for keeps with a chance to play at SF or Atlanta as the reward. Out of no respect to the ass-clown Rube, you can go first:

Vikings Rube:

Mr. MVP, AP, forces game 3.

Mr. MVP, AP, forces Game 3 – 1.5.13 – Lambeau Field.

Someone’s bitter. What, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy the 199 yards AP forced down your throat? Or the fact that Christian Ponder – yup, that Christian Ponder – had 3 TD’s and ZERO turnovers? What happened to that “elite” defense you’ve been bragging about?

Packers Roob:

Blind squirrel theory me boy – except that whole AP bit. That guy is a beast.

Vikings Rube:

While I am a full believer in the blind squirrel theory, that was not what happened Sunday. All-galaxy RB Adrian Peterson happened. Dr. Ponder and not Mr. Christian happened. Mike McCarthy doing his best Andy Reid impression happened (McCarthy gave no value to his TOs and it killed him). Kicking savant Blair Walsh happened. And lastly, a surprise playoff appearance happened.

It is this last bit that makes this Saturday’s playoff game so intriguing. The Vikes are playing with house money. They have nothing to lose. AP has already locked up his MVP candidacy. Side note, if he does not win, he needs to file the 843rd lawsuit, and counting, against Roger Goodell. AP’s season, compared to the very good seasons of Messers Manning, Brady, and Rodgers, was just that much better. All you need to do is look at last Sunday’s game to know AP deserves the hardware. Every person in the Packers organization knew AP was going to get the ball and he still went for nearly 200 yards.

But enough about the Vikings clutch victory last Sunday, let’s get back to this weekend’s game.

The Vikes were 3-13 last year and were not supposed to be even 5 wins better this year. This Saturday’s game represents the gravy. And I am talking, at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving gravy. The good stuff. Most Vikes fans would have been thrilled with AP’s other-worldly season, an improvement from Dr. Ponder, some consistency on defense, and an 8-8 year. That would have been great considering how poorly we played last season.

Instead, this team finishes 10-6 and makes the playoffs???? Seriously???

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei... McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei… McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Match-ups (I swear we will get to these) and Coach Reid’s…I mean…McCarthy’s decision making aside, this Saturday’s game is going to be interesting because one team is not supposed to be there. That is always dangerous for the team that is.

Packers Roob:

House money. Interesting take. I frankly think it works against you. The Vikings just played their best game of the season… by far. It was a highly emotional game and atmosphere. Vikings simply gave everything they had to get to the playoffs by winning multiple games in a row, including a contested final game against its biggest rival. Their goal was making the playoffs, and they accomplished it. Now, to turn around and regain that emotion is difficult to accomplish – especially for a young and inexperienced team. I simply don’t see how the Vikings are able to regain that level of emotion which you need to play at such a high level in the playoffs. Of course, this is similar to what the Packers did in 2010 when it made it’s Super Bowl run. Still, that was a team led by an elite QB coming into his prime and a juggernaut of a defense. Vikings don’t have either.

Even if we assume the emotional levels will match, the Packers still have the edge. Like I said, it was a herculean-like effort for the Vikes to pull of this win. I don’t see Dr. Ponder (and not Mr. Steele) re-appearing to the tune of 200+ yards, 3TDs, and zero turnovers. And, in our third try, the Packers HAVE to limit AP to less than 200-yards. Right?!?! Plus, the Vikings pulled off this win after the Packers spotted them 13 points while it toiled away with running Ryan Grant the first two possessions – not to mention a few lucky bounces, such as the non-catch catch. Meanwhile, this was one of the worst defensive performances of the season by the Packers. Bottom line, there was a lot that went right for the Vikes last Sunday, while the Packers did not look like the same team that had been starting to peak at the right time. I just do not see the same thing happening, and that is what needs to happen in order for the Vikes to win.

Vikings Rube:

You are absolutely right (holy hell, someone write that down). It will be difficult for the Vikings to match the emotion of last Sunday’s game. But that is the beauty of it. They do not have to achieve that kind of emotion. There is no pressure on them. Just like the Packers in 2010. Or the Giants in 2012. Both teams won big games going into the playoffs and replicated that success in the playoffs. The Vikings can just go out and play football. Meanwhile, the pressure continues to build for the Green and Gold. The Packers are looking at this match-up and thinking, man, we got gifted the first game, played an outstanding offensive game in round two, and somehow we still lost. We should be 0-2 against this squad. The Packers’ defense is reeling. They have shown no answer for stopping AP. And for the record, I am not sure there is one. I am waiting to hear back from my buddy at NASA.

Mr. Steele's wedding was the first one without a reception.

Mr. Steele’s wedding was the first one without a reception.

Now, will Dr. Ponder play as well this Saturday as he did last Sunday? Maybe not. But, he is trending in the right direction. His average QBR during the last 4 games of the season (against quality opponents) was nearly 30 points higher than through his previous 12 games. And 4 games is a decent sample size. Keeping that in mind, if Dr. Ponder can find the stadium, lace his shoes up right, and not throw any back-breaking INTs he could manage the Vikes to victory. Remember, just saying that AP will not continue to impose his will on this defense is not a solution. Coach Reid…I mean McCarthy…better come up with a better scheme than that.

Packers Roob:

You will not win in the playoffs hoping your QB can be a game-manager. The Vikings defense is not elite enough to accomplish that. Dr. Ponder needs to have a similar effort for the Vikes to win. And that is assuming AP runs roughshod over our defense again. And even though there is no stopping this beast, I do expect the third time to be a little more difficult for him. This is a proud defense. Woodson is coming back this week, and he is known for sticking his nose in there and making tackles at the line or even behind it. And you have got to expect the coaching staff to embarrass Tramon, Shields, and Hayward for their poor tackling efforts. Check that, Tramon did not make tackling efforts, he simply played ole with AP.

Plus, lost in AP’s dominance was B.J. Raji’s dominance. He was constantly in the backfield, bottling up the middle of the line. AP got his yards by bouncing it outside where our OLB’s – yes, that includes Claymaker – poorly set the edge and/or the CB’s wanted no part of AP. But, if Raji and Pickett continue to control the middle and are able to push the line into the backfield, AP will have to work hard, again, to get his yards. If the Packers maintain better gap control, they can limit AP. And before you go off, realize that by limiting AP, I simply mean limiting him to the low-100’s. That can be accomplished. In his career, AP has had the following rushing yards at Lambeau: 2011 – 51 yds.; 2010 – 131; 2009 – 97; 2008 – 103; and 2008 – 45. Though there are many variables in play with such a historical study – i.e. worse offensive lines and blowouts by the Packers – those performances show that the Packers have historically “limited” AP to normal, human-level rushing totals. If the Packers expect to win, AP’s 200-yard average cannot continue.

Vikings Rube:

I have to give credit, where credit is due, Woodson is a better tackler than Tramon. Though, that might the world’s lowest bar. Raji did play well and Sullivan played poorly. If you want to talk about a trend that likely will not continue, that is it. Sullivan is too good of a player (his Pro Bowl spot was stolen by the Packers’ back-up center) to let that happen twice. So, even if the Packers are able to improve on the edges, I expect a similar improvement for the Vikings in the middle. And while 200 yards might be a reach, AP and the Vikes could get a win with a consistent 150 and a well-managed game from Dr. Ponder.

That said, the team’s success hinges, not necessarily on the offense (where I expect the Vikings to put up some points), but on the defense (where there are a couple of significant question marks). Those questions marks are the health of Antoine Winfield and Brian Robison. Both are impact players for the Vikings and not having either or both could suck all the drama out of this weekend’s match-up faster than a Psy concert on New Year’s Eve.

(Not so quick aside, after watching Psy’s terrible performance on New Year’s Eve, he had the gall to announce that he is putting an end to the Gangnam Style momentum? My first reaction was: what a moron!!! Why kill the golden goose? Milk that bad boy for all it is worth. Just ask other one-hit wonders (that is right Psy, you are a one-hit wonder) like Vanilla Ice and Lou Bega. You do not kill the golden goose. My second reaction (I know what you are thinking – you had two reactions to this news – this is my life) was: who does he think he is? When we (putting on my society hat), make you an overnight millionaire, WE tell YOU when to stop playing that terrible song. That means we might just stop paying attention or we might relegate it to the wedding circuit for the next 10 to 15 years (in which case –  you’re welcome). Or, we may give that bad boy an S-curve bounce in the charts and have its remix (thank you Skrillex) be the hit song of this summer. We are fickle and have not decided yet. But you will keep playing it until we decide.

Okay, back to football.

Robison's strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

Robison’s strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

The loss of Winfield or Robison would be killer. Robison has had a really good season and his strip sack in Sunday’s game was a huge turning point. Him being out there is critical to the Vikes rushing the passer and getting home with 4 guys. Perhaps most importantly, he allows Everson Griffen to play inside, where he had a field day on Sunday, notching a hat trick with 3 sacks. As huge a loss as Robison would be, the loss of Winfield might be even bigger. Prior to Winfield’s injury, Rodgers was Ponder-like 8 for 15 for 48 yards and one TD. After Winfield’s injury, with Sherrels and Jefferson seeing more playing time, Rodgers went 20 for 25 for 317 yards and 3 TDs. That is downright scary.

Both players swear they will play this week. But a bum shoulder is not the best injury for a defensive lineman. It is just about as bad as a broken hand for a defensive back. The outlook is scary and the Vikes will need both players healthy if they are going to prevail.

Packers Roob:

Raji’s been on a tear for the last 1½ months or so. And he didn’t abuse Sully; he abused those turnstiles you call guards. Though not as dominant as last Sunday, Raji was regularly blowing up the middle runs in the first go-around too. I expect the same to happen this third game.

Finally, we get to the most important part of Saturday’s game: the relative health of each team. In a weird turn of events, the Packers enter Saturday’s game about as healthy as it can be. The only noteworthy injury to follow is Jordy, who mysteriously missed practice early this week. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear serious and he appears to be full-go. And yes, I’m aware of Jerel Worthy’s season-ending injury, but those 14 tackles aren’t exactly tough to replace. Conversely, there are major injury issues with the Vikings. You are absolutely right, Winfield’s injury opened the flood-gates to Rodgers & Co. You’re also forgetting your new favorite, the Golden Fundamental. He was out for the last part of the game and, while it sounds like he will play, he may be limited. If both Smith and Winfield are out or severely limited, the game is over before it begins.

Frankly, Robison does not scare me. He made the most important play of the game when he stripped-sacked Rodgers. But, I do not buy into his importance. And the reason is simple: I do not care how much you sack Rodgers. Unless it turns into the first-half of the Seahawks game where Rodgers was sacked a preposterous 8-times or something, sacking him a number of times throughout the game has little impact on his effectiveness. In Sunday’s game, the Vikings had 5 sacks and applied some pressure on top of that. What did Rodgers do? Throw for 365 yards and 4 TD’s. This was his third-consecutive game of 3 or more TDs and nearly-or-above 300 yards throwing. The offense is clicking. The only thing I worry about with the sacks is the strip-sack. But, Rodgers isn’t Culpepper with the ball. And as I said last week, the sacks often occur because of Rodger’s propensity to hold the ball longer in hopes of making plays with his feet. He’s simply lethal rolling out of the pocket. So, bring the pressure. You may get the sacks. Unless you get a turnover with it – which is not a common occurrence when Rodgers is pressured – I do not expect the sacks, pressure, or hits to impact the game as it does with other QBs. Thus, to me, the game turns on the Vikings’ secondary play. Given the recent success of the Packers passing offense and the Vikings injuries, the Packers are probably licking their chops to get after it Saturday night.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

And, let’s not also forget about the success of the Packers run game Sunday. Though far from great, once Ryan Grant was benched and DuJuan Harris was inserted into the full-time role, the run game produced an effective 70 yards on 14 carries, good enough for a 5.0 ypc. If the Packers continue to have any sort of success with the run game, the offense should approach, if not surpass, 30 points again. I do not see the Vikings going tit-for-tat in the scoring department like last week. So, yeah, you may say, I am rather confident heading into Saturday’s showdown.

One final note – 2 of Walsh’s 3 misses were in outdoor games – at Chicago and at Lambeau. Considering the Vikes only played four outdoor games this season and the fact Walsh has never kicked in a game when the temperatures will be 20-degrees or below, your second-best offensive weapon may not be as reliable. (And save it. Yes, I know Shanksby is still our kicker.)

Vikings Rube:

Only a Packers Roob would try and go after a Pro Bowl, record-setting kicker with some foolish stat like that. All three of those misses occurred on either Thursday or Sunday, this weekend’s game is Saturday night. Boom! The best way to counter a preposterous stat is with another preposterous stat.

You are sort of right about Rodgers. You cannot stop him by blitzing him. You can stop him by getting pressure with your front four. That is where Robison’s value comes in. Plus, and you completely ignored this, it is not just about Robison, but instead about allowing Griffen to rush from the middle, that means so much to the Vikings defensive scheme. Unfortunately, even with that pressure from the front four, I am not sure a coached up Sherrels or Jefferson can hold their own. That is why Winfield is so important.

So, now that I have re-explained it to you, how about that vaunted Packers running attack. Sure, the Packers averaged 5 yards a carry, but it was not consistent. Harris had more than half his yards, 39, on just 5 carries. Everything else was a few yards here and there. Since the Packers are not going to give him the rock 25 plus times and let him try to break a big one, why even bother? Rodgers has already shown an ability to sustain a drive without running the ball. Take a page out of Sean Payton’s book and just throw it 50+ times. Now that is a scary proposition. And as proof, in 5 of the 6 scoring drives last weekend, the Packers ran the ball two times or less. Um, hmmmmm, even Andy Reid could figure this one out. Actually, on second thought, never mind…pay no attention to that…I was only playing around.

Predictions:

Vikings Rube:

I know what the logical move is here. Pick the Green and Gold. Vegas has them as a TD+ favorite. Fortunately, Adrian Peterson plays for the Vikings and this season has just been one of those years. He has done illogical things all year. He is a man possessed who has answered the bell every time he has been called on. Oh, 2nd and 27 following a moronic set of penalties? How about 28 and a trail of bodies for 1st and Goal. Out of the backfield after a ball fake? Sure, this receiving thing cannot be that hard. 2nd and 10 on the final drive of the game/season and only seconds remaining? I will have 26 yards and a near record to set up Blair for a chippy. Block a FG or make a tackle on special teams? Okay, so he only wants to do that. It seems like every time the Vikings have needed him, Peterson has performed. Logical or not. What is more, the Vikings’ opponents knew it was going to him and they still could not stop him. That only adds to the lunacy. I am not picking against him now. Peterson gets whatever we need, including a Vikings playoff win.

Vikings 30 Packers 28

Packers Roob:

The Packers have been looking to the playoffs all season long. That is why they were so cautious with injuries and have been slowly gaining momentum to come into the playoffs playing at or near its peak. Last week was a setback for the defense. But, the return of Woodson will make a difference and I think the rest of the defense will fair better tackling AP. Rodgers & Co. keeps on rolling. This is a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. With last year’s brutal ending in mind, they will be looking for redemption. Packers start their Super Bowl run with a complete game victory over the Vikes.

Pack 34 Vikes 23

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Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

Come On In, The Water Is Not Freezing

The 4-1 Vikings are preparing for an important road test against a frisky Washington Redskins squad. No, seriously, the 4-1 Vikings. NFC North Division leader Vikings. This is an important game, to be sure.

The birdcage liners around the Twin Cities have been scouring game film from the past few games to find elements of the Vikings offense, defense, and special teams that need to improve. But, here is the thing, the Vikings are 4-1. Leaders of the NFC North Division. We, as fans, should be thrilled to be here. And I mean like Honey BooBoo staring down a Baconater with side of cheese curds thrilled.

Coming in to this season, expectations for this particular Vikings squad were low, to say the least. Most mic jockeys had the team finishing around 3-13. Only Minnesota Viking employee and resident rube, PA, had this squad with a winning record through the first eight games. But here we sit. 4-1. That includes quality wins against the royalty of the NFC, the 49ers, and a playoff team from last year, the Detroit Lions. In fact, if not for a dramatic loss against the NFC North Killer Colts, the Vikings would be undefeated going into this week’s tilt against the Skins.

Vikings fans should step back and enjoy the ride. We are playing with house money right now.

Cross the middle at your peril with the Golden Fundamental roaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, could there be improvements? Sure. The Vikings have yet to face a premiere signal caller (sorry Fat Stafford and Andrew Horseshoe Up My Rear). The Vikings secondary still seems to lack the ball-hawking skills of a great defense. Though, the addition of the Golden Fundamental, save for last week’s Earl Weaver blow-up, has certainly steadied what was a very inconsistent unit. They still have a long way to go in terms of keeping up the Jones, aka da Bears, who have housed four defensive TDs in the last two weeks.

And I suppose, I cannot call you Busey for saying that the Vikings offense has been maddeningly inconsistent. They had four scoring drives of more than 60 yards against the Titans and 49ers but only two, one, and zero against Fat Stafford, Blaine “No I Am Not The Lead Singer Of Death Cab” Gabbert” and Senor Horseshoe Up My Rear, respectively. Without sustainable, and better yet, repeatable offensive game-planning, this team may suffer some defeats.

But again, 4-1 people. 4-1! I would have been thrilled with 2-3. Furthermore, considering the gut-breaking and heart-wrenching losses Vikings fans have endured over the years, stuff it Lord Favre, a 4-1 start when the doom and gloomers were predicting far worse is  winning all day. And yes, I am talking Chaz Sheen at the peak of his Busey, winning.

So come on in! There is plenty of room and the water is pretty damn warm. Skol Vikings.

Vikings 20 Redskins 17

The Golden Fundamental

Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith started his career as a linebacker at Notre Dame. His sophomore and junior year he played a mix of both strong safety and linebacker. In his senior season, he was finally slotted for good as the Irish starting strong safety. Always a little undersized at linebacker, Vikings fans ought to be thankful for the decision to keep him at safety.

While Smith has a ways to go to catch up to the hard hitting, ball-hawking Dawkins, their styles of play are very similar.

Through his first 4 NFL games as a starting strong safety, the Notre Dame rookie and first round pick has been fundamentally sound. He has not made a ton of flashy plays. But, he has also not done anything to hurt the Vikings defense. As a rookie, playing a difficult NFL position, he has lived up to his billing. He takes good angles to make tackles. He fills gaps with a gusto. And, when need be, he can absolutely lay the wood on an opposing receiver, tight end, or running back.

At Notre Dame, Smith was a steady performer who had 90 tackles in his senior season. He was also team captain and leader of a pretty stingy Irish defense. It is those intangibles that have been contagious on the 2012 Vikings defense. Smith’s presence in the Vikings secondary has helped transform a pass defense that last season was one of the worst in the league, into one of the league’s better pass defenses.

The Vikings have not had a strong safety of this quality since Robert Griffith roamed the secondary. And while Smith has not yet displayed Griffith’s nose for the ball, Smith has shown a tenacity and toughness that you cannot teach. The guy is just nails.

Last week’s game against the Motor City Kitties is the perfect example. With the Kitties trying to comeback, Fat Stafford threw a deep post to All-Universe WR Calvin Johnson. And yes, Johnson is every bit of 6’5″ and 230 lbs. The guy is a beast. Johnson was supposed to be covered by 5’9″ Antoine Winfield and 5’10” Jamarca Sanford. Sanford blew his coverage and, last year, it would have been a pitch and catch TD for the Kitties. See here if you need proof. This year, the Golden Fundamental, Smith, came to the rescue. He cheated back into the play and delivered monster hit on Megatron. We are talking Mack truck.

No, that is not a Kitties’ receiver, that is Alligator mississippiensis.

That hit served two purposes. First, it jarred the ball loose and took seven points off the board. But second, and maybe more importantly, it set the tone for later in the game. When the Kitties were trying to come back in the 4th Quarter and, it seemed like on every down field pass, the Kitties’ receivers were pulling a Qadry Ismail and short-arming their attempt at catching the ball. The sudden appearance of alligator arms was likely because of Smith’s looming presence in the secondary.

This week the Vikings face a Tenessee Titans squad that has been beaten by 20+ points in three out of their four games. The Titans offense has looked Rip Torn-mug shot bad and their defense has looked worse — think James Brown’s police photoshoot. Even though Matt Hasselbeck is a seasoned NFL QB, okay fine, maybe he is a little over-seasoned, Smith and the Vikings defense should be able to hold the Titans offense in check.

Provided the Vikings offense can put up a few scores against the Titans, the Vikings should have no issues getting win number four. Especially with the Golden Fundamental laying the wood on anyone brave enough to go after a pass in his secondary.

Vikings 23 Titans 13

2012 NFL Draft: Act One

The first round of the 2012 NFL Draft was wilder than a substance fueled Charlie Sheen all-nighter. The picks came in so hot they actually had to queue selections to allow the television coverage to catch-up – which may or may not have been the most annoying part of the show. (This was not.) There was a flurry of trades within the first round with multiple teams jockeying for guys they think can help their team win. This included some shrewd activity, both early and late, by one of the Border Rivals squads. While the other Border Rivals squad sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the High Life while he let the draft come to him.

The following is both a review of what happened during round one and what could happen in Friday’s sequel. To kick things off, let’s start with the surprisingly active half of the Border Rivals rivalry.

Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings shrewdly swapped their 3rd overall pick for the Browns 4th overall and their 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks. This trade marked a departure for a Vikings management group that has never swung a deal like this, despite fans clamoring for it. As long as this author has been alive, the Vikes have never been the team to make the savvy, draft-day move. In fact, quite the opposite, this was the team that was late bringing its pick to the podium not once, but TWICE. And yet tonight, the Vikes made the perfect move, not once, but TWICE.

Trading down from #3 was perfect because they not only landed the player they wanted anyway, Matt Kalil, but they leveraged the Browns into coughing up three additional picks. Then, they used one of those picks, to finance a trade to get back into the first round and get the other player they really wanted, safety Harrison Smith.

Mount Kalil’s considerable skills have been detailed on this site’s pages here. His presence at left tackle actually improves the Vikes at two positions because now last year’s left tackle, Charlie Johnson, can move inside to guard. As for Smith, he is a solid safety who will consistently make the heady play. He may not be flashy, but, he will make the ordinary plays, extraordinarily well (shout out to John Gagliardi for that line). This kind of consistency will be a nice departure from the practice squad All-stars that manned the porous secondary last year.

Ultimately though, the difference between this year’s draft being good and great is going to come down to whether the Vikings can replicate their mastery of the move in rounds two and three. Most draft “experts” agree that, barring a Tom Brady or Marques Colston suprise, this draft is about 100 players deep. That means the odds are in your favor for getting a decent NFL starter in the first three rounds. For that reason, the Vikes should use their bounty of picks in the later rounds to try and trade back into the second or third rounds. For a team with needs all over the field, two or three more decent NFL starters will make all the difference.

Green Bay Packers

Staying true to his M.O., TT patiently waited until his selection and (most likely) picked the best player available. Thankfully, TT’s best player available also happened to be the biggest need for the Packers – another OLB to rush the passer and compliment The Claymaker. Going back to the well, TT selected USC’s Nick Perry (OLB) with the 28th overall selection.

Perry started his career at USC playing the Elephant position (the same position The Claymaker made famous) and then converted to a DE force. In his final season (red-shirt junior year), Perry recorded 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks, good enough to lead the Pac-whatever-the-number-is-now in sacks. Perry is 6’3” and 270 lbs. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash (third-best for an OLB at the Combine) and benched 225 lbs. 35 times (good for 5th best out of all defensive linemen). The experts report that Perry’s biggest strengths are his burst off the ball, his overall quickness, which is especially impressive considering his size, and his relentless pursuit. Clearly, TT found another stud in the first-round, right?

Not so fast. Perry’s biggest weakness gives me cause for concern. He played primarily DE in college and any highlight package you see of Perry shows him with his hand in the ground. He undoubtedly has superior athleticism, but that’s not enough to win in the NFL. Even Perry proclaimed at the Combine that he’d prefer sticking his hand in the ground in a 4-3 over playing OLB in a 3-4. He knows how to get to the QB. But, it’s a complete guess whether he can fully play the OLB position in a 3-4 – i.e. can he play standing up, guard TE’s in open space, and not get lost in zone coverage. I have full faith in our coaching staff, most importantly Kevin Greene, to coach this young man up and get him ready – after all, they worked wonders with Frank Zombo in making him competent enough to start on a Super Bowl winning team. Still, it’s going to require some major coaching and there will certainly be some growing pains along the way to get Perry comfortable in his new OLB position.

In addition to this primary concern, I’m also a bit frustrated TT didn’t make a move to trade up and get a player – namely, Dont’a Hightower, a beast ILB from Alabama. The Hoodie traded a 4th round pick to move up and grab Hightower. It’s a nominal price, particularly since the Packers have three 4th round selections this year. I coveted getting a thumper ILB to pair with Bishop. And even if Hightower wasn’t the selection, it would have been nice to see TT move up to get a player he coveted given the low cost and superfluous picks we have this year. Along these lines, it was somewhat surprising TT went with Perry over Courtney Upshaw, OLB from Alabama. Upshaw seems to be the more proven OLB commodity having played that position in a 3-4 in college and for the best defense in the country. My guess is Perry’s superior athleticism pushed him over Upshaw and TT has full confidence in his staff to teach Perry the position.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 1st round for the Packers. A position of dire need was filled with an unquestionably talented player. Perry comes from an elite program and is an instant starter for us. That’s what you want out of an end-of-1st selection.

As for the 2nd-3rd rounds Friday night, I anticipate TT will continue to devote picks to the defense. The Packers own the 27th selection in both the 2nd (59th overall) and 3rd (90th) rounds. Stocked with three 4th round selections and 12 picks overall, I anticipate TT will not simply sit back and wait like he did in the 1st round. There is plenty of talent left on the board and believe TT could make a move up to grab a player he covets. He did this two years ago when he sniped Morgan Burnett, and it’s a model he should follow again this year. The Packers do not need 12 new players to add to the roster. Instead, the Packers need impact-players, ones that TT targets, and trades up to acquire.

There are several DE prospects still lingering – Jerel Worthy, Devon Still, Kendall Reyes, and Jared Crick. Additionally, Courtney Upshaw, Lavonte David, Zach Brown, Ronnell Lewis, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, and Olivier Vernon are OLB prospects that are still on the board. Finally, both Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are CB’s that could interest the Packers. As you can tell, there’s a lot of talent for the taking in the second round. At least some of these players will start to fall. It’s time for TT to be aggressive and move up several spots to grab one of these players.

Prediction: I see TT going after the front 7 on defense again in the second round. If TT makes a move, he will go after Reyes or David. If he sits back and waits, the pick will be Crick or Lewis/Curry. In the 3rd round, he should try to get secondary help. One name to keep an eye out for is Casey Hayward from Vanderbilt. If he avoids the secondary, this may be the spot TT addresses the OL – either a guard (remember, T.J. Lang is a FA next year) or center.

For a change, both sides of the St. Croix should be pleased with the results from the 1st Rd. Friday night’s rounds 2 and 3 are just as important to both teams’ success. Enjoy the festivities and make sure to check back here for some reaction following the draft.