Minnesota Vikings At Detroit Lions Preview

This week’s matchup pits the Vikings against a Detroit Lions team that has a competent quarterback in Jon Kitna, this year’s number one pick Calvin Johnson, a proven big-play wide receiver in Roy Williams, and no-slouches-themselves receivers Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, and pass-first offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Vikings Defense vs. Lions Offense

The Lions like to employ four- and five-receiver sets.

We’re are going to find out how just much the Vikings’ pass defense has improved, particularly our pass rush.

Cornerbacks Marcus McCauley and Charles Gorden look to see a lot of action and will probably be targeted by Kita and company because of their inexperience.

The Lions rushing attack will feature Tatum Bell because both Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett are injured. And though Bell ran for 87 yards against the Raiders last week, don’t expect a repeat performance against the Vikings. The Vikings run defense is better and Martz will prefer to pass against the Vikings anyway.

For the Vikings to be successful against the Lions’ offense they’ll need to shut down the run, done, and then, ideally, bring enough pressure with the front four that they make Kitna uncomfortable in the pocket.

The nice thing about four- and five-receiver sets is that there are fewer people to pass block on the line. That means no double-teaming the Williamses, leaving Udeze, Edwards, Scott and Robison to bring pressure off the edge. I’d expect to see a lot of rookie Brian Robison at left end if Udeze can’t bring sufficient pressure. Look for Spencer Johnson to get a lot of work, as well.

The cornerbacks will have to be physical at the line by jamming and rerouting their receivers to disrupt the quick passes and allow the D-line enough time to get to Kitna. Ideally, this would allow Leslie Fraizer the freedom to use the linebackers primarily in coverage rather than blitzing.

Kitna is definitely rattleable. Last week he threw two picks and last year he had 22 interceptions against 21 touchdowns. If the Vikes can get to Kitna, there might be some scoring opportunities on picks. If Kitna goes down, the Lions are in serious trouble because, with backup QB Dan Orlovsky injured, they’d have to rely on third string quarterback, former Viking, J.T. O’Sullivan.

Vikings Offense vs. Lions Defense

The Vikings will want to play ball control offense by running the ball as much as they can and creating long, time-consuming drives to keep the Lions offense off the field. In a game they should have won, they Raiders had success running against Detroit, with LaMont Jordon gaining 70 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries for a 4.6 yard average.

It will help the Vikings cause a great deal if Chester Taylor is healthy enough to play to keep the Lions guessing as to who will get the rock. If Taylor’s healthy, I’d expect to see a lot of him and Adrian Peterson in the backfield at the same time.

If the Lions are successful against the run, then obviously we’ll need Tarvaris Jackson to make them pay with the passing game.  He will have an additional weapon at his disposal this week, with receiver Robert Ferguson expected to be active this week.

I hate to say it, but keeping the Lions honest might depend on Jackson connecting deep with Troy Williamson.

Regardless, the Lions have a horrible record against us so they’ve got to prove to me that this group is different from any other Lions team we’ve face. I expect the Vikings to win a close one.

NFL.com’s Video Preview

2007 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

The thing about this season is that the just have to get a little better than last year to win a lot more games. Consider the games the Vikings lost last year:

  • In September, the Vikings lost to the Bears, 16-19
  • In October, the Vikings lost to the Bills, 17-12
  • and to the Patriots, 7-31
  • In November, the Vikings lost to the 49ers, 9-3
  • to the Packers, 17-23
  • and to the Dolphins, 24-20
  • In December, the Vikings lost to the Bears again, 23-13
  • to the Jets, 13-26
  • again to the Packers, 9-7
  • and to the Rams, 21-41

The two games against the Packers and Bears each were winnable. The margins of victory for each of those four games were 3 points, 6 points, 10 points, and 2 points. The Vikings lost to the Bills by 5 points; to the 49ers by 6 points; and to the Dolphins by four point.

Instead of 6 and 10, they could have easily been 10 and 6 and division winners.

With the addition of , , and , I think the defense has gotten much stronger and much harder to pass against than last season.

But the defense, of course, wasn’t the problem last year. The offense was.

We improved on offense significantly with the addition of . I am officially a converted fan of , who has proven very adept at making yards after the catch. is a great addition if he can stay healthy. is a nice big target who has shown he’s got good hands, is not afraid to catch the ball in a crowd, is very athletic and has excellent body control. And if we can get to catch a few long bombs, we’ll at least have the semblance of a deep threat.

The offensive line returns with one year together playing the zone blocking scheme, so they’ve got to improve simply because they are more familiar with one another and with zone blocking.

The big question is . He looks very poised and by all accounts is a smart kid, a quick study, and a quick decision maker. The main thing for Jackson is to avoid mistakes, which is to say turnovers, while he learns the ropes.

The most glaring weakness of this team is the coverage units, which are absolutely horrible. I’m not too confident that they’ll improve that much.

Looking at the schedule, I think it’s reasonable to think that the Vikings could go 9-7 or even 10-6 this year. I’m giving the Vikings both games against the , even with . That team has to prove to me they can win, cause they’ve never done it before. I’d split the series as I would the series, though I think the Vikings could sweep them as well.

We should beat the Vickless to open the season. We play the , the , and the , all of which should be wins.

So that’s eight wins.

The are beatable with at QB. The are beatable. They’ve got a rookie coach and we don’t yet know whether is the real thing. The and the look as if they will be good, but they’re sorta at that stage where it’s too early to tell. Even the could be beatable because you never know if will be healthy.

Thee only guaranteed loss is to the .

Minnesota Vikings Vs. Seattle Seahawks

This is what I want to see tonight:

  1. : I hope they let him pass a lot. I mainly want to see if he makes good decisions in the passing game and doesn’t fumble the snap or the handoffs. We know he’s got a strong arm. We know he can run. We don’t yet know if he’ll be a smart quarterback. I also want to see him run the two minute offense.
  2. The right side of the offensive line: is starting tonight a right guard in place of , but Hicks will get plenty of playing time. It appears will be the right tackle and I’m fine with that. I thought, though he was raw last year, he was a vast improvement over . Will Johnson be overmatched again tonight?
  3. : A lot. Just because.
  4. Wide Receivers: I do want to see but only a little. He’s pretty much a known commodity: A good, tough receiver who gets hurt. I want to see them go deep a couple times to down the left sideline because that has always seemed to be the most difficult catch for him. I want to see a lot more of , , and , so we can see what we’ve got with those three. And how ’bout , that track star we invested a three year contract in? Let’s see what he’s got.
  5. : And a lot of him. Has he done anything this preseason except block? I guess he caught one pass, but I can’t even remember it, so it must’ve been unremarkable. I want to see if he can stretch the defense, as advertised. If teams are going to try and shut down our receiving corps, we’re going to have to kill them with Shaincoe, so he’s an important part of the passing game.
  6. : I hope to God he’ll return with that burst he showed last year before getting injured. If he’s healthy, we’ve got three good pass rushing right ends in James, and rookie . That would mean that with the way the Vikings rotate their D-lineman, we’ll be able to get consistent pressure on all downs from the right side. I’d like to see start on the left side because at least he gets some sacks. I am also looking forward to seeing what we’ve got in .
  7. : He had a great game last week but didn’t really show up in the first preseason game. I’d like to be assured that last week wasn’t a fluke.
  8. and : This is the best battle on defense and I think we’ll be fine with whoever wins the nickle spot. I give Edwards the nod because of experience. Edwards has got the speed but McCauley has got the size and he’s not slow, either.
  9. The Defense Against A Spread Offense: I don’t know if we’ll see it tonight, but the Jets tried it against us and we had an answer. I want to see consistent success against the spread.
  10. Oh, and I almost failed to mention: .

Preseason – Minnesota Vikings Vs. NY Jets

  Preseason – Rams 
  Originally uploaded by vikingsfrenzy

Football season couldn’t have come at a better time. With the Twins being such frustrating teases all season long, hovering around six games back with a chance to get back in the pennant race but not being quite good enough to win the games they should win, it’s nice that they aren’t the only game in town anymore.

Vikings Free Agency

This off season was a particularly painful one for Vikings fans. In a weak market for receivers, the team went after one high profile guy in Kevin Curtis and settled on , a guy who had a well-deserved reputation for dropping passes. The team signed a tight end no one had ever heard of in , a special teams ace in linebacker , injured safety , receiver and another "wide receiver" , a guy who has never played football.

So you’re thinking, great, the rebuilding continues…with average players. I do not remember a more dispiriting Vikings off season.

The Vikings Draft

But then the rolls around and the picks give you reason to hope. is clearly a talented and explosive back but who has durability issues. We stocked up on receivers with , , and ; took a cornerback who was project to be a first round pick last year in ; got depth at linebacker with ; took a pass rushing defensive end in ; and got another young gun in quarterback .

The draft gave me a bit of hope. If he stays healthy Adrian Peterson could be an amazing running back; Sidney Rice, at 6′ 4" is a nice tall target and Allison and Chandler Williams have got speed. Then there’s Marcus McCauley, the first-round grade cornerback.

Hope springs eternal during the preseason and I’m perfectly happy to oblige.

The Vikings Preseason

The Vikings are heading into the 2007 season with essentially three number one draft picks. There’s Adrian Peterson, of course, but If you also count Marcus McCauley, who, as I said, most people consider a first round talent, and last year’s first round pick , who didn’t play last year because of injury, we’ve got three first rounders this year.

You have to figure the offensive line will be better–hopefully much improved–after a year together in the zone blocking scheme. So the only questions on offense are 1) playcalling, 2) , and the wide receiving corps.

The defense looks to have gotten stronger with a healthy Greenway, a healthy and , and the addition of McCauley and Mike Doss. I think we’ve got four starters at the corners, intense competition at safety, more speed at linebacker, and the only question is at the defensive end positions.

I was very impressed with last season and now he’s got a year’s experience under his belt. But it remains to be seen how will bounce back from his injury and has done nothing to warrant anyone’s confidence.

I don’t know if special teams can get much worse than last year, so we’ll see what happens there.

Preseason Games

So what do we know after two preseason games? So far, so good.

The Offense

The offense looks to be better for having been liberated from Childress‘ playcalling script.

Thus far, Tarvaris Jackson hasn’t done anything to make you groan but he hasn’t had many chances to make mistakes yet, either. He has lead a few impressive drives, he looks decisive, and he hasn’t had any center/quarterback exchange problems, so his concentration is good.

But if Jackson isn’t the real deal, then we’re in real trouble.

Against St. Louis, the Vikings got the ball to Troy Williamson early and frequently and the receiver caught all the catches you expect him to make. On the one he didn’t haul in, it was a difficult catch because the ball was thrown high and Williamson had a receiver draped all over him. He probably should’ve caught it, but at this point, who are we to quibble? It’s progress.

Against the Jets, Williamson got a long bomb down the right sideline and he fought for position with the defender, got the position, looked to have a bead on the ball with his hands in position for the catch but the safety came in to swat the ball away before Williamson could have a chance at it.

It is notable that they haven’t yet thrown to him down the left sideline. Williamson has historically had the ball slip through his arms on deep passes where he’s had to look over his right shoulder. That’s something to watch for in the remaining preseason games.

Bobby Wade is as advertised. He’s a catch and run slot guy who has caught nearly everything thrown to him. So far he’s proved me wrong about him being stone-handed. He did not make a tough third down pass that would have given the Vikes a fresh set of downs but he did have a defender all over him. Still, he should’ve caught the ball. He’s shown several times that he’s got the ability to make people miss and make a lot of yards after the catch, so that’s very good.

Wad is also an excellent blocker, a talent he showed off on Peterson’s 43 yard run against the Jets by sealing one defender to allow Peterson to get out on the edge, then moving on to another which freed Peterson up for a long run.

What little we’ve seen of Sidney Rice thus far has been good. He’s a big guy who’s not afraid to catch the ball in a crowd. Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams have yet to make an impression, but Martin Nance has had a few nice nabs.

New tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has not yet shown up as a receiver, so we’ll watch for him to make some plays.

We didn’t get to see much of what Adrian Peterson can do against the Rams but man did we in his performance against the Jets. The shake and bake, the spin, the acceleration; we haven’t seen that in a running back since Robert Smith. You could see his power when he hit congestion at the line and moved the pile. For all his toughness, we didn’t see a lot of that from Chester Taylor last season. Peterson looked like he was hitting the holes a little too quickly at times but the patience should come. If he learns to pick up blitzes effectively, we could be in for a lot of entertaining football. Here are Peterson’s highlights from the Jets game:

The offensive line looks good enough but depth is still an issue; against the Jets, demonstrated yet again his trouble picking up the outside rush.

The Defense

Well, it looks like the defense will still be the strength of the team and very possibly much better than last year.

The defense has been fantastic thus far. Against the Rams, linebacker Dontarrious Thomas took his pick 82 yards to the house for the Vikings’ only touchdown and safety Dwight Smith picked Marc Bulger to end another Rams’ drive. Against the Jets, both Darren Sharper and Chad Greenway returned interceptions for touchdowns and rookie Brian Robison recovered a fumble for a score.

I think the secondary is stronger than last year. A healthy Tank Williams and newcomer Mike Doss provide competition and depth at the safety spots. If they both make the team, we’ll have experienced starters as backups regardless of what the depth chart looks like.

At the corners we’ve got Winfield and , who I liked a lot last year. He’s got a year under his belt and should only improve. Marcus McCauley has looked solid so far and Dovonte Edwards is healthy and had a pick against the Jets. Those two will battle for the nickel spot and regardless who wins the spot, we’ll have an upgrade in both speed and talent at both the nickel and the dime positions.

At linebacker we lost Napoleon Harris and so E.J. Henderson will move to the middle linebacking position. He didn’t fare so well at that position early in his career but he had a fantastic season last year and let’s hope that experience and maturity will help him excel at the Mike position.

Ben Leber returns after a solid season last year and Greenway is healthy. Chad Greenway didn’t do much against the Rams but he was outstanding against the Jets. In addition to scoring on an interception return, he lead the team in tackles and sniffed out a screen and tackled the Jets’ back for a loss. He’s very fast, so our drop coverage in the Tampa 2 will probably improve. Dontarrious Thomas provides depth as a roaming backer but with rookie Rufus Alexander lost for the year (what is it with linebackers and season-ending injuries?) with an ACL injury and Jason Glenn retiring, we’re a little thin at the position.

Ray Edwards has been a rock star at defensive end so far this preseason; in both games he’s put consistent pressure on the quarterback and his rush of Chad Pennington caused the ill-advised pass that Greenway picked off for a score.

It has been rookie Brian Robison who has had the most eye-opening performance this preseason. He had one sack against the Rams and was absolutely unstoppable, putting constant pressure on the passer. But I withheld judgment until I got to see him play against a first-team line. Against the Jet, Robison had four tackles, one sack, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

I was wrong about Robison. When the Vikings picked him, it looked like a reach to me. I was really wrong. The guy is lightning-quick. He made D’Brickshaw Ferguson look like he was playing in water and put some pretty good moves on the tackle on his way to the quarterback.

On one play he motored in around the tackle and though he didn’t have a chance for a sack, he batted the ball out of Kellen Clemens‘ hands for a forced fumble that the Jets recovered. On the very next play, the Jets center snapped an errant ball that Clemens couldn’t reach from the shotgun position.

Robison, of course, was there in the backfield and as Clemens reached down for the ball, he smartly pushed the quarterback out of the way, and all in one motion scooped up the ball, and dove into the end zone for the score. A lot of players would have either tried to tackle the quarterback or dove for the ball but Robison realized he’d have a clearer path to the ball by simply pushing the QB out of the way.

If Erasmus James returns to his former self and we can get either Edwards or Robison to play the opposite side, we won’t have to worry about whether or not Udeze fulfills his promise.

‘s defense looks very much like ‘s of last year, except with more blitzing. It’s been effective. We may even see some .

Special Teams

Vinny Ciurciu doesn’t seem to have improved the coverage units measurably, so that remains a weakness. , however, may just beat out for the punter position on the strength of his kickoff power and his directional punting ability. Reyes’ kickoffs haven’t been particularly consistent but at least he’s hit some to the one and three yard lines. Neither Kluwe nor Reyes has displayed much power on their punts, but Reyes can do the coffin corner.

It was impressive to see the field goal unit quickly assemble on field as time ticked away before the half of the Jets game and nail a 54 yard field goal as time expired.

And, by the way, it was a 54 yard field goal. Outside. In wet weather. Last year, was solid inside the forty but had trouble with the longer field goals.

Next Saturday: Seattle Seahawks

We should get to see some extended play of Tarvaris Jackson on Saturday and I expect he’ll throw a lot. Expect the ball to be thrown primarily to Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison and Visanthe Shiancoe.

The defensive spotlight will shine on Erasmus James to see how his recovery has progressed.

Free Agency Delayed

On the positive side, the delay of till, at the earlies, Monday, gives me some extra time to put together my 2006 NFL Free Agency Resources post. On the downside, damn, we gotta wait!

Had talks broken down for good, as they appeared they had, the would have been in the sweet position of being $24 million below the cap while most other teams would have to cut high-priced veterans, flooding the market with talent, lowering the asking prices for all free agents, in an environment when only a couple of teams–the Vikes and most prominent among them–would be in a position to pay anyone anything.

The Vikes could practically have had their choice of free agents at bargain prices. That would have put them in the enviable positon of not only being positioned to get the top picks of the free agent litter, but it would have also greatly reduced the bargaining leverage of such players as and .

But had that happened, the Vikings had better win the Super Bowl because with a lack of an agreement and, as a result, a salary-capless 2007 season, the Vikings would all of a sudden have transformed into the of football, a small market team trying to compete against major media market free spenders such as the .

The downside would have been far to dire; let’s count ourselves luck for the repreive.

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Two Touchdowns, An Interception & 3 Drops

That was my production for the two games we played on Saturday with the pick-up football guys.

We had five on five or six on six–I can’t remember–but the field we laid out was a bit too narrow for the number of people who showed up, so the first game was all about defense. There were a lot of interceptions because there wasn’t as much room for receivers to get open.

As a result, the game lasted forever. Since we had an odd number of guys, I played all time defense for the first game. That was fine with me. I figured I’d save my energy that way and thus have more in the tank for the second game, when everyone else would be tired. It was all right with me, that is, until I realized just how long the game would last. During one of our numerous water breaks about halfway through the game, by way of commenting on the length of the game, I said it didn’t look like I was going to play on offense today. Delicious was nice enough to notice and offered to switch with me so I could play some offense, which I did.

During the first game I didn’t do much at all except tweak my shoulder. Two weeks ago, I broke up a pass and my hand was gabbed and pulled by the receiver I was defending and it sure felt like my shoulder dislocated and then immediately popped back in; either that, or it was hyper-extended. I am, it must be pointed out, notoriously inaccurate in diagnosing my own sports injuries. Whatever the case, it hurt like hell. The shoulder felt a lot better on Saturday but early in the game I knocked away a hard-thrown ball and tweaked it real bad–damn it hurt.

So that’s what my performance amounted to during the first game.

The Second Game

I fared much better during the second game but halfway through it, I started feeling dizzy. It was clear I needed something to eat. During a water break I scoured my bag for an energy bar I knew was in there with no small amount of trepidation because I bought the bar probably two years ago. But it was either eat it, or stop playing, and that wasn’t an option. So I ate it.

My fears were quickly confirmed, as I started to get sick shortly thereafter. Not throwing up or anything, but definitely feeling really crappy. That and my throbbing shoulder. Ugh.

The Drops

But despite all that, I was much more productive during the second game. I did drop three passes that I should have caught. And it’s driving me nuts because I’ve been doing too much of that lately. Especially as I’m getting older, I can’t afford to drop the passes I should make if I want to keep up with the younger guys. One was a low pass on a crossing route that wasn’t all that easy, but I should have caught none-the-less. Another was a high and outside pass at the sideline that was a little awkward but I got two hands on it, so I should have pulled it in. The third drop was a pass that needed to be low to keep it away from defenders. I was doing a crossing route just over the end zone and my QB got the ball to me about shin-high. I got both hands on it but simply dropped the ball. It’s never an excuse, but I wasn’t expecting the ball. It would have been a score.

Two Touchdowns & An Interception

Halfway through the game, I was pretty exhausted and was not running as fast as I probably should have been running. But on one play, I made up my mind to make a move on my defender and score on a long bomb. Lucky for me, my defender hasn’t been playing as regularly as I have, so he might have been a bit tired. Anyway, I ran a seam route heading toward the middle of the field and once I got him turned inside, I broke slightly outside to create some separation. My quarterback saw the play lofted a perfect strike that I brought in just over my defender’s outstretched arms and with just enough room to get two feet in in the back of the end zone.

My interception came on the following drive. The other team drove relentlessly and efficiently down the field with a well-run set of short plays. They were five yards away from a score and I was playing in the middle. I had a feeling their quarterback was going to try toss one over my head to one of his tall receivers and he did but he didn’t get the ball up quite high enough and I went up and got it.

The following drive, we marched down the field and got to about the ten when I did a crossing route in the back of the end zone and camped out in the middle of the field. My QB fired a bullet between two defenders that I caught (but not before bobbling) for the game winning TD.

Funny, I didn’t feel sick anymore.