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Can the Vikings sustain recent O-line improvement?

By Matthew Coller

After the Minnesota Vikings’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Mike Zimmer gave his offensive line a vote of confidence.

“I really respect the offensive line and the things they do because they’re in my opinion they’re tough guys,” Zimmer said on October 10. “They work real hard. They don’t say ‘boo’ they just keep fighting. They’re getting better every day and that’s what we have to do as a football team.”

Over the last two weeks in wins over the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets, the offensive line proved their head coach to be correct despite missing left tackle Riley Reiff in both games and starting left guard Tom Compton for the majority of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.

Against the Jets, the Vikings allowed just nine pressures on 45 total drop backs by Kirk Cousins, per Pro Football Focus. To put that in context, Minnesota’s O-line gave up 33 pressures on 61 drop backs against Buffalo and 30 on 58 in Los Angeles. The Jets and Cardinals have totaled just 23 in the last two weeks.

Rookie Brian O’Neill continued his success filling in as the starting right tackle. He gave up just two pressures against the Cardinals and only one in the Vikings’ 37-17 victory.

“I thought he played well yesterday, physical, much better in pass protection, good in the running game, I thought he did well,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings have also started to create holes for explosive runs. The last two weeks have pushed them into third place in the NFL in rushes of more than 10 yards. Playing a significant role in that improvement is Pat Elflein, who missed the first two games and was limited in Week 3.

“He’s doing really well, I thought he played well yesterday,” Zimmer said on Monday.

Zimmer praised backup Danny Isidora, who filled in for Compton, for a block he made on a big gain on Sunday.

“He did some good things in the running game, decent in the passing game,” Zimmer said of Isidora.

Whether they can keep protecting Cousins and creating big runs is yet to be seen, but there are signs the Vikings could remain capable up front. Elflein’s presence, for starters, and the possibility that O’Neill will remain at right tackle following the return of Reiff. It was clear that the Vikings’ starting left tackle has not been healthy since injuring his foot Week 3. Resting him the last two weeks could pay dividends long term.

Quality of competition will matter, too. Pro Football Focus ranks the Saints as having the 11th best pass rush in the NFL. New Orleans’ defensive line is highlighted by one of the best players in the NFL in Cameron Jordan.

Following New Orleans, the Vikings will see one of the worst and then one of the best pass rushes in the league in Detroit (27th by PFF) and Chicago (fourth).

Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said last week the Vikings’ offensive line has shown an ability to battle through tough times, dating back to the beginning of training camp when offensive line coach Tony Sparano passed away.

“Those guys are a really resilient group,” DeFilippo said. “Obviously, there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Tony, that Tony’s name comes up. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Tony, probably not an hour that goes by. Those guys are a resilient group and they’ve done the best that they can in handling that situation and it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been easy, but those guys are doing a good job.”

The post Can the Vikings sustain recent O-line improvement? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Jets, 37-17

By Vikings – WCCO | CBS Minnesota

gettyimages 1052701912 4 Takeaways: Vikings Beat Jets, 37 17

It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but the Minnesota Vikings got back to the top of the NFC North Division after a 37-17 win over the New York Jets on Sunday.

It’s the Vikings’ third straight win after getting off to a 1-2-1 start. With Chicago’s loss to the Patriots, the Vikings are now atop the division. Green Bay had its bye week, and now travels to the L.A. Rams, the best team in the NFL, and heads to New England in two weeks.

Sunday’s performance wasn’t perfect by any means, but the Vikings did what they need to do and made a 10-7 lead at the half into an uneventful finish. They created turnovers, didn’t let the Jets run game get going and make big plays on offense.

Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win, with a huge game against the New Orleans Saints looming Sunday night.

(credit: Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Defense Makes Darnold Look Like… A Rookie

For the last time in the regular season, the Vikings faced a rookie quarterback. And for the most part, they made Sam Darnold look like a rookie. He faced consistent pressure most of the afternoon, and was sacked three times. Danielle Hunter technically kept his sack streak alive with a half sack, combining on a play with Jaleel Johnson.

Darnold threw for 203 yards and an early touchdown, but was also intercepted three times. Harrison Smith picked off a pass tipped by Xavier Rhodes, Holton Hill got an interception after Rhodes left the game with an ankle injury and Trae Waynes also got an interception. The Jets also only ran for 71 yards, and never got into a rhythm because of the Vikings defense.

(credit: Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Thielen Stays Hot

Adam Thielen has gone from a feel-good story to being one of the elite receivers in the NFL. He kept a historic season going Sunday with nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. That’s seven straight weeks to start the season with at least 100 yards receiving. He’s now chasing Calvin Johnson’s record of eight straight games.

Thielen’s 34-yard first quarter touchdown gave the Vikings an early lead and a spark, which is always nice to have on the road. He caught nine of his 10 targets on the day and continues to make plays for Kirk Cousins, who finished with 241 yards and two scores. Thielen’s big day came despite seeing double teams from the Jets’ defense for a majority of the game.

Injury Bug Bites Before New Orleans

The Vikings were missing a few key pieces entering the Jets game, and lost a few more players to injury Sunday with a huge game coming against New Orleans next Sunday night. Everson Griffen remains out, and Linval Joseph didn’t play after missing practice most of the week. Dalvin Cook was also out with a hamstring injury, and Riley Reiff and Andrew Sendejo didn’t play.

Adding to that, the Vikings lost linebacker Anthony Barr in the second half to a hamstring injury, and Xavier Rhodes to an ankle injury. They also lost offensive lineman Tom Compton to a knee injury early. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the game he didn’t think the injuries to Barr or Rhodes were serious. But with the New Orleans Saints coming to town, the Vikings need every healthy player they can get back, especially on defense with one of the best NFL offenses coming to Minneapolis.

What Was Kirk Cousins Doing?

If you’re a Vikings fan and were watching the game, you were a little puzzled when Kirk Cousins threw a backwards pass intended for Stefon Diggs into the ground. A backwards incomplete pass is a fumble by NFL rules, and Diggs realized it quickly enough to pounce on it and keep possession.

It was intended to be a lateral to Diggs for a run play, but the Jets had it covered. At the time, the game was still within reach and the play absolutely mattered. Cousins said after the game he should have either made sure it was a forward pass or taken a sack. A similar play to Roc Thomas at Philadelphia resulted in a turnover.

Cousins is off to a great start in his first season with the Vikings, but needs to avoid those potential turnovers and continue making good decisions. They’re unnecessary potential turnovers for an offense that has the potential to be as explosive as the Vikings do.

The Vikings now have two huge games against the Saints and Lions before their Week 10 bye. Two wins would be huge in setting up potential playoff positioning.

Source:: CBS Minnesota

After seven weeks, how does the Vikings’ offense stack up against NFL’s best?

By Matthew Coller

When the Minnesota Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins, they hoped to be able to repeat — and possibly improve on — the success of the 2017 offense. Through seven weeks, they have some work to do in order to reach that goal.

Last season the Vikings finished 10th in points, eighth in percentage of drives ending in points, eighth in net yards per pass attempt, seventh in rushing yards, 12th in red zone touchdown percentage and No. 1 in third down percentage.

In the same categories this year, Minnesota’s offense sits ninth in points, 26th in percentage of drives ending in points, 16th in net yards per pass attempt, 25th in rushing yards, 19th in red zone touchdown percentage and 22nd in third down percentage

Considering that seven games is a small sample — and the Vikings’ offense was not one of the best in the league through seven weeks last year — there’s plenty of time to maximize the talents of quarterback Kirk Cousins and skills of his weapons. An improving offensive line and the return of Dalvin Cook would likely go a long way toward the Vikings producing points on a higher percentage of their drives.

The question is which numbers are likely to improve and which should be cause for concern?

Among the areas where the Vikings’ offense is likely to see their ranking improve is in the total rushing yards. Over the last two weeks — albeit against weaker opponents — the Vikings have produced multiple explosive runs. At the center of those — literally — has been center Pat Elflein, who missed the first three weeks of the season and then was forced to match up against Aaron Donald and Fletcher Cox on consecutive weeks.

In terms of yards per attempt, the Vikings’ run game is actually 0.1 yards per attempt higher than last year. The difference is that they ran effectively when playing from ahead in games. Minnesota had the second most run attempts in 2017. This year they are 23rd in attempts.

Head coach Mike Zimmer mentioned in his postgame comments that he would like to see more running on second down. They have run 56 times on second down this year, which ranks 14th in terms of total plays, but makes up only 36.1 percent of total second down plays. They are also 25th in yards per attempt on second down.

But those numbers could change if the Vikings’ defense continues to have success. Falling behind against Buffalo and getting into a shootout against the Rams likely skewed those stats from what they would normally be.

In terms of yards per pass attempt, it is clear that the offense relies on moving the ball with short passes and hitting on the occasional bomb. Kirk Cousins is fourth in the fewest air yards per attempt and has the NFL’s second lowest “Aggressiveness Percentage,” which is a NextGen stat tracking the amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage.

If the Vikings’ pass protection continues to show positive signs as it (mostly) did over the past two weeks, Cousins may work the ball downfield at a higher rate and see a jump in yards per attempt going forward. But this week against a dangerous pair of defensive ends with New Orleans, it’s likely that the Vikings will have to continue to rely on quick passes and every-once-in-awhile deep shots.

The third down and red zone numbers are difficult to predict.

Last season the Vikings rarely found themselves in third-and-long whereas this season Cousins has the third most third-and-long attempts in the NFL. On those throws he has just an 80.2 quarterback rating and averages 5.4 yards per attempt. On third downs with less than six yards to go, he averages 6.8 YPA and has a 99.5 rating. It would appear third down success will be dictated by the team’s ability to create third-and-short.

Coming into this season, Cousins’ red zone play in the past was not overly impressive. His numbers are mid-pack with a 60.0 percent completion percentage, eight touchdown and zero turnovers. Success in the red zone may ultimately come down to the Vikings’ ability to pound the ball into the end zone with the run game. They clearly have not trusted the run in the red zone with 34 pass plays and just 14 runs inside the opponent’s 20.

Opponent quality always matters in conversations about numbers. The Vikings have matched up with a mixed bag of defenses so far. In order by week, opponents rank 30th, 15th, 16th, 4th, 6th, 24th and 17th in points allowed per game.

On the upcoming schedule, there will be some opportunities to put up points as they match up with the 27th, 23rd, 11th, 15th and 20th ranked defenses in points allowed per game over the next five weeks.

At the moment, we can conclude that the Vikings have been a very good offense at times, but have also gone through stretches where they were not one of the more effective teams in the league. The picture overall is still unclear with the offense still being a work in progress.

The post After seven weeks, how does the Vikings’ offense stack up against NFL’s best? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Can the Vikings’ offense still improve? (ep 392)

By Matthew Coller

Matthew Coller and former NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels break down an ugly win for the Vikings and look at some of the things that they need to do to improve on offense. How can the Vikings better utilize the running game? Where have the screen passes gone? And are Kirk Cousins’ mistakes correctable? Plus a look at what worked for the Vikings’ defense against Sam Darnold.

The post Can the Vikings’ offense still improve? (ep 392) appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

Vikings Fan’s Rental Car Reportedly Destroyed By Tailgaters’ Coals

By Vikings – WCCO | CBS Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A fire that burned multiple vehicles parked at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium during this weekend’s Vikings-Jets game was the result of hot coals left by tailgaters, reports say.

And a Vikings fan said one of those vehicles was her rental car.

The fire damaged or destroyed multiple vehicles in the parking lot, as reported by The Press of Atlantic City. A state trooper told the paper that a driver parked over hot coals, causing a fire that spread to five other vehicles. Another vehicle also reportedly parked on coals in a separate lot. The trooper reported this isn’t the first time this occurrence has happened.

On Twitter, a woman named Gina reported that her rental car had burned to the ground: “I’m not even kidding.”

So yeah.

What started as a fun trip to see the @Vikings play the @nyjets turned into a total nightmare.

Dumb Jets tailgaters set our rental car on fire in the @MLStadium parking lot with their freaking grill pic.twitter.com/6KTe5133ad

— Gina (@Peril_in_Pink) October 22, 2018

She went on to write, “What started as a fun trip to see the @Vikings play the @nyjets turned into a total nightmare. Dumb Jets tailgaters set our rental car on fire in the @MLStadium parking lot with their freaking grill.”

She also said that the car was wrecked when they came out of the game and that there were no witnesses.

Source:: CBS Minnesota

Sheldon Richardson on Sam Darnold: He looked cold and frustrated

By Josh Alper After two straight wins at home, the Jets found the sledding considerably tougher against the Vikings on Sunday. Their running game never got going, their receivers had issues holding onto the ball and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was erratic while completing 17-of-42 passes for 206 yards. Three of those passes were picked off by the [more]

Source:: ProFootballTalk

Vikings ability to develop players showing with injuries abound

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings came into Sunday’s game against the New York Jets missing two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, a starting safety, a star running back, a rookie depth corner and a $55 million left tackle. The Vikings also saw their starting linebacker and Pro Bowl cornerback go down during the game. And they won by 20 points.

One by one, the young replacements stepped up. Former seventh-round pick Stephen Weatherly and 2017 fourth-rounder Jaleel Johnson started on the defensive line, which held the Jets to 3.0 yards per carry. Johnson also had a half sack. Plus rookie Jalyn Holmes picked up a sack.

In the secondary, Jayron Kearse picked up a sack and played a number of snaps in the “big nickel” package, which was used often by the Vikings as they held Sam Darnold to 17-for-42 passing with three interceptions — one of which came from undrafted rookie Holton Hill.

While Latavius Murray got the majority of snaps in the backfield, undrafted rookie Roc Thomas busted a 23-yard run and fellow undrafted rookie Mike Boone picked up a 9-yard gain.

Rookie Brian O’Neill did not allow a sack and handled the Jets’ pass rush well as the starting right tackle.

And undrafted rookie Brandon Zylstra added a 23-yard catch for good measure,

“That’s why it’s so important that we as coaches continue to push these young guys because they’re going to get in the ball game at some time,” Zimmer said. “A guy like Eric Wilson, for instance, we’ve been playing him in some packages and it’s just good for him to get in the game. Holton Hill got in today… These guys are going to have to play.”

Minnesota’s victory put on display the team’s efforts to find players with high ceilings in the late rounds of the draft or in the undrafted free agent pool and develop them.

Weatherly, for example, only had 11.5 sacks over his three college seasons, but has spent the past two years learning behind the likes of Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. Kearse was also a seventh-rounder who largely only played special teams until this year.

Investments in undrafted free agents like Eric Wilson and Hill are paying off. General manager Rick Spielman noted before last season the increased emphasis in spending on UDFAs.

The Vikings’ free agency decisions to add depth are also paying off. Veteran Tom Johnson, who was brought back after being let go by Seattle, recovered a fumble and stuffed a run for a six-yard loss and George Iloka was solid again starting in place of Andrew Sendejo.

While Zimmer said that injuries to Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr did not appear to be serious, the Vikings will likely need their depth players to continue to step up. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was on the injury report with three different injuries, it’s unclear when Dalvin Cook will return from a hamstring injury and there is no timeline for Griffen’s return.

Next week the depth will truly be tested in the Vikings are without starters against the New Orleans Saints.

The post Vikings ability to develop players showing with injuries abound appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

The Jets, Their Quarterback Facing Their Would-Be Quarterback, Lose to the Vikings

By By ZACH SCHONBRUN The rookie Sam Darnold, showing growing pains, was outplayed by Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, who had been pursued by the Jets this off-season.

Source:: New York Times

Kirk Cousins: Offense was “all over the map” on Sunday

By Josh Alper The Vikings offense scuffled during the first half of Sunday’s game against the Jets, but quarterback Kirk Cousins said that a strong wind at MetLife Stadium wasn’t the reason why things didn’t click. While Cousins did say playing indoors is “a positive in general” during his postgame press conference, but said it was “a good [more]

Source:: ProFootballTalk

Zulgad: Zimmer’s calm, cool and collected act proves to be a winning play

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings were 1-2-1 and had lost consecutive games when Mike Zimmer did his best Aaron Rodgers impersonation and, in his own way, told us to R-E-L-A-X.

“Everybody forgets we were 2-2 last year at this time,” Zimmer said following the Vikings’ 38-31 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. “We will just keep fighting and playing. Just because everybody expected us to be 4-0 at this point, or whatever it is, doesn’t mean that’s realistic. We are just going to keep fighting and try to sure up things.”

Nearly a month later, Zimmer’s call for calm has proven to be prescient.

The Vikings are 4-2-1 and atop the NFC North after a 37-17 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium and will face a major test next Sunday night when they play host to New Orleans in a rematch of their classic NFC playoff game last January.

There haven’t been many works of art when it comes to the Vikings this season — back-to-back victories over Arizona and the Jets were more of the grind-it-out variety — but Minnesota has put together a three-game winning streak since the loss in Los Angeles and that’s all that matters.

The streak started with a key victory in Philadelphia, the place where the Vikings got blown out in last season’s NFC title game, and it could continue against the NFC South-leading Saints (4-1). That won’t be easy considering Zimmer’s banged-up defense could be missing several key starters (linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes left Sunday’s game in the second half) and will be trying to slow ageless wonder Drew Brees.

But don’t sell the crafty Zimmer short. Earlier this season it appeared as if his defense might have lost its mojo. But Carson Wentz and rookie quarterbacks Josh Rosen (Arizona) and Sam Darnold (Jets) likely would tell you otherwise. Shutting down Brees, even before a sold out crowd of noisy Vikings fans at U.S. Bank Stadium, isn’t going to be easy.

A victory over the Saints would put the Vikings in the conversation as one of the top teams in the NFC. But even if the Vikings’ lose this game, they still could enter their bye week in good shape with a win over Detroit the following Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

After beating the Eagles, the feeling was that if the Vikings took three of their next four before their off week that they would have set themselves up pretty well. Lose to the Saints and beat Detroit and that will be the case. That would put the Vikings at 5-3-1 and set them up to face four NFC North opponents and five conferences foes in their remaining seven games.

The Vikings got a huge break from the schedule-makers when it comes to the timing of their bye. The Bears’ bye was in Week 5, the Lions was last week and the Packers had their bye on Sunday. There is never a bad time for a week of rest, but having it hit as late as Week 10 means the Vikings will have ample opportunity to get healthy before things heat up in November.

This could be especially beneficial considering the Vikings were without three defensive starters (Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Andrew Sendejo) on Sunday and lost two more (Anthony Barr and Xavier Rhodes) during the course of the game.

The Vikings also played a second consecutive game Sunday without starting left tackle Riley Reiff and lost guard Tom Compton in the first half. One would also think that at some point soon running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) will return after missing the past three games and four of the past five.

Veteran Latavius Murray is a very capable running back, but a healthy Cook could make an enormous difference in the Vikings’ offense considering his ability to not only run the ball but also catch and block.

Although it could come back to bite them at some point, the Vikings largely have erased the feeling of doubt that resulted from their 27-6 loss to Buffalo in Week 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Bills fell to 2-5 on the season with a 37-5 loss Sunday at Indianapolis and how a hapless collection like that so soundly beat the Vikings forever will be a mystery.

It’s a credit to Zimmer that he so quickly moved on from that defeat. That also was a sign of how much he learned from allowing himself to get so upset after the Vikings lost at Philadelphia in Week 7 out of the bye in 2016. Minnesota entered that game with a 5-0 record, but never recovered from the Eagles loss and finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

Zimmer definitely did not allow himself to relax that season and the end result was a massive disappointment. The script on 2018 has yet to be completed but right now it appears as if the head coach’s ability to move on from a rough spell has put his team back on a positive track.

The post Zulgad: Zimmer’s calm, cool and collected act proves to be a winning play appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire