Archive for the Antoine Winfield Category


Without Winfield, The Vikings Are in Deep Trouble

Along with many other fans of the Vikings this past Sunday, I watched as Joe Flacco lit up a terrible defense play after play. Upon further inspection, I realized that the same player was giving up big plays time and time again, Karl Paymah.

I looked hard at the TV trying to see the number of the players on the Vikings defense. I couldn’t find good ol’ No. 26 anywhere. I thought to myself, “Where did Winfield go? Did he get hurt? Maybe he had a family emergency to attend to.”

Not once did the announcers mention anything about Winfield’s absence, but it became clear very fast.

Karl Paymah couldn’t stop anything. Part of me wondered whether it was even worth it to have him on the field. He not only gave up a huge touchdown with his back to the play, he couldn’t tackle to save his life.

The defense looked dreadful. They gave up two huge runs after shutting the running game down in the first three quarters. They couldn’t tackle or deflect any pass.

It was almost as if the Ravens had told every player on the Vikings defense, “You guys won! Congratulations! You can go home now. We’ll just shower and get on the first plane back to Baltimore. Pack up your things and head to Pittsburgh. This game is over.”

The Vikings defense said, “Okay!” and walked off the field as the Ravens put up 21 points in under six minutes.

“Hey!” the Vikings defense squeaked. “You guys lied to us! The game isn’t over yet!”

Well, they had me fooled too.

I thought the game was over. Up by 17 points in the fourth quarter with no sign of the Ravens showing up to play, I was sure Favre and Peterson would again be sitting on the sidelines for the rest of the game. But it all happened so fast.

We know how the story ended, but a new chapter could potentially unfold this Sunday when the Vikings take the field without their heart and soul, Antoine Winfield.

While no official announcement has been made, the purple warrior will likely have to sit a week and prepare for a slugfest in Green Bay.

One could easily tell it was not the same defense without Winfield.

Not only was Winfield injured, but backup cornerback/nickelback Benny Sapp was injured too. He was playing off and on, but repeatedly left the field because of a head injury he suffered in the early minutes of the game.

But please GOD do not make me watch Karl Paymah go up against Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Paymah wouldn’t stand a chance and Roethlisberger would have a career day.

I will say this. If Winfield does not play, the Vikings have very little chance at pulling off a 7-0 record by the end of Sunday.

I think the offense is more than capable of putting up some big numbers, but the defense needs to show that they can live without its Pro Bowl cornerback for one game.

It could be an ugly game Vikings fans. Let’s just hope that Winfield is near 100 percent and a massively improved Benny Sapp is ready to go.

SKOL VIKINGS…urgh…

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Minnesota Vikings Survive Baltimore Ravens 33-31, Despite Poor Clock Management

As brilliant as the Vikings have been recently in their ability to score in the first quarter, they have been as simple in their attempts to manage the clock and score in the fourth quarter to finish off their opponents.

On the last play of the game, Baltimore Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka missed a 44-yard field goal wide left.  The Vikings had won their second game of the season within the last two seconds of the game.

 The Vikings stand 6-0 and are one of only four remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL.   Ordinarily players on a team that is 6-0 would be ear to ear with smiles in their post game interviews.

However, smiles were scant in the locker room.  After all the Ravens had scored 21 points against the Vikings defense in the fourth quarter and had marched down the field to position themselves to kick the game winning field goal.

All of the Vikings knew that they were fortunate to escape with their sixth win after their fourth quarter collapse.

The Vikings stood at 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.  The game should have been over given the experience of the defense and the weapons on the offense.   Yet, ultimately the game was decided by the Ravens field goal kicker.

The main reason for the Vikings collapse was due to poor tackling in the second half.  Ravens running backs and receivers ran over, through and around the linebackers and secondary of the Vikings. 

Part of the explanation for the lacking of tackling by the Vikings is attributable to injuries. All-Pro Antoine Winfield left the game with a toe injury in the second quarter and nickel back Benny Sapp missed most of the second half feeling the effects of a helmet to helmet hit.   

While Winfield and Sapp are key players, the Vikings can’t afford the drop off in execution when one or both of them are not in the game. The Vikings will likely be shopping for some secondary help before the trade deadline.

The most disturbing part of the Vikings collapse against the Ravens however was the self-inflicted wound brought about by their play calling in the fourth quarter. 

Before criticizing the Vikings execution in the fourth quarter, lavish praise for the play calling of the Vikings and what they have recently been able to do in the first quarter is due.  In their past three games, the Vikings have scored five touchdowns with the six possessions that they have had in the first quarter. 

Against the Ravens, the Vikings deftly kept the Ravens guessing mixing up their runs and passes early in the game.  On the first drive the Vikings had three running plays and three passes; on their second drive they had three running plays and four passes.  Favre even mixed up his passing targets as he went to five different receivers in the first two drives of the game.

Clearly, the Vikings coaching staff is able to identify weaknesses in their opponents defensive schemes and design and successfully implement an initial offensive game plan.

In watching the Vikings last two home games, Vikings fans had to wonder why their coaching staff wasn’t as effective in the fourth quarter in generating points and managing the clock.  Yes, the last two home games .

The Vikings almost squandered a 30-14 fourth quarter lead against Green Bay three weeks ago.  At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Vikings stopped using play action and went to simple trap plays.

The Packers took advantage of the gift scoring a touchdown with 3:40 in the fourth quarter to bring the score to 30-20.  The Vikings recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Green Bay 45-yard line. 

At this point, if the Vikings can get a first down or two the game is over.  Two first downs and the Vikings will have drained the Packers of their time outs, they can kick a field goal within Ryan Longwell’s range, and they leave the Packers without enough time to tie the game.

The Vikings go conservative and are content simply to run the ball on the first two downs to exhaust the Packers timeouts.  On third down, the Vikings run a flag route resulting in an incomplete pass. 

The flag route was not disguised in anyway.  There was no fake pitch to the running back to bring the safety up. 

A stop and go route would have at least given Favre an opportunity to sneak a pass in using a pump fake.  Once the receiver demonstrated that he couldn’t run pass the corner back, Favre threw the ball harmlessly out of bounds.

The Vikings possession gave them no opportunity to add any points, lasted all of 29 seconds and allowed the Packers to use the two minute warning as an additional time out.  

The Packers being gracious guests accepted the gift and marched down for a field goal.   While the Packers had no timeouts left they were now within seven points of the Vikings preparing to kick an onside kick. 

Disaster was avoided when the Vikings recovered the on-side kick.

Against the Ravens it was déjà vu all over again.

The Vikings had the ball the on the Ravens 18 yard line with 2:51 in the game.  At the time, the Ravens were winning the game at 31-30.  The Ravens had two timeouts remaining.

The Vikings clearly wanted to have the Ravens use all their time outs and wanted to run down the clock as much as possible to leave the Ravens with only a few seconds to score.

The most pressing need for the Vikings was to score and to take the lead as they were behind.   Preferably the Vikings would score a touchdown as a field goal would leave the Ravens the opportunity to win the game with their own field goal.

The Vikings with the ball on the Ravens 18 went ultra-conservative. The Vikings pounded the ball up the middle with three straight Adrian Peterson runs gaining four yards.  The Vikings were clearly content with Baltimore calling their remaining two timeouts and having Ryan Longwell kick a 31-yard field goal to give them a two-point lead.

After the kickoff, Baltimore started their final possession at the 33-yard line with 1:46 left in the game.  The strategy worked for the Vikings.

However, the three running plays called by the Vikings at Baltimore’s 18-yard line appeared to be playing not to lose as opposed to the Vikings playing to win the game.

The Vikings didn’t need to call a flea flicker or a double reverse on the 18-yard line, but they should have at least called one play that was some type of play-action or bootleg for Favre. 

If the play works the Vikings have a chance to score a touchdown or at the very least run more time off the clock as they would have obtained a first down.   

The Vikings defense had not stopped the Ravens from moving the ball in the second half.  Scoring a touchdown on the Ravens would have at least forced the Ravens to go for the entire length of the field to take the lead.   

Yes, calling such a play is dangerous in that there is a chance for an interception.  However, the benefits far outweigh the minimal risk.

Favre has 12 touchdowns to only two interceptions and had not made a bad throw in the game.  Worst case, Favre takes a knee for a five-yard loss if he sees nothing open.  Longwell’s kick is a little longer but it is still a relatively easy 36-yard field goal.

The chance of success on play action with a pass was not insignificant.  The Vikings scored three touchdowns against the Ravens in the red zone.  All three touchdowns came on pass plays.  The Vikings final touchdown pass of the day by Favre came after he faked a pitch to Peterson.

Sometimes you win by playing it safe.  The Vikings won by playing it safe on Sunday as the Ravens missed the field goal as time expired. 

However, sometimes playing it safe allows your opponent an opportunity to beat you; and sometimes they are willing to oblige. The Vikings need to stop being such gracious hosts as they have the talent to have the route to the Super Bowl go through the Metrodome.

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An Honest Assessment of the Minnesota Vikings After the Monday Night Showdown

Coach Jon Gruden loves Bret Favre more than coach John Madden almost to the point where a restraining order might be necessary.   We now know that if given a chance Gruden would welcome the opportunity to coach Favre again.

I can’t ever remember an analyst bringing his favorite film from practice sessions in effort to praise a player.   I only hope for Gruden’s sake that if he did not own the film of Favre throwing deep in practice he acquired the film through the proper channels.

OK, besides Gruden’s affection for Favre, we know that while the Vikings have enough talent to make it to the Super Bowl they might not be the best team in the NFC.

If you are Viking fan you saw several things on Monday night to make you salivate over the possibilities of watching football in February.  However, if you are a NFC playoff contender, or Dennis Green, you aren’t likely ready to crown them. 

Quarterback

Favre’s physical gifts have not diminished as he still has zip on the slants and out routes.  He can throw the ball downfield with authority and can get the ball into his receiver in a two deep zone. 

More importantly, Favre has brought leadership to the team and it is apparent in post game interviews that the youngsters on the team are feeding off of his confidence.

The two questions concerning Favre are whether he is durable enough to last the entire season and can he play well in inclement weather.  Neither of these questions has been answered. 

We will however know more after Favre faces the gauntlet of Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Green Bay starting on week six.

Wide Receivers

The Vikings receivers have made several big plays and are doing a very good job of getting yards after the catch.  Rookie Percy Harvin has especially been impressive avoiding and breaking tackles.   Sidney Rice appears to be poised for a break-out season.

Bernard Berrian however still does not look healthy.  Berrian’s 31 yard touchdown catch against the Packers was due to a mental lapse by the secondary and not his speed. 

While Harvin and Rice have looked very good, the Vikings need Berrian to contribute to have a consistent passing attack. 

Running Attack

The best running back in the NFL is Adrian Peterson and pairing him with Chester Taylor gives the Vikings the best tandem in the league.   Yes, Peterson’s fumble on MNF was disheartening but the organization is unlikely to trade him anytime soon.  Taylor has done a good job doing whatever the team needs and Favre has been smart to publicly show his appreciation for Chester’s efforts.

As much talent that Peterson and Taylor have, they still need the offensive line to create some daylight.   

 
Offensive Line

The best that can be said about the offensive line is that their play has been inconsistent. 

Against the Cleveland Browns, Favre was sacked four times and was hurried several times.  The Lions pass rush put Favre to the turf on three occasions and made sure he was not lonely on several occasions.  Throw in a couple of holding penalties and Coach Childress was ready for aspirin for his headache.

On Monday Night, the offensive line was Houdini like in making the Packers pass rushers completely disappear.  Even more impressive was that the offensive line was not called for holding. 

Steve Hutchinson saw limited time in practice this week with pain in his low back.  If Hutchinson misses significant time the offensive line will not be able to continue the trend established against Green Bay and the running lanes will be greatly decrease.

Run Defense

Teams have had more success rushing the ball up the middle against the Vikings this year.  Currently, the run defense is ranked ninth after leading the league last year.  No need however to hit the panic button just yet because the “fall” to the ninth spot means the Vikings are only giving up an additional 12.5 yards a game on the ground.

Teams playing the Vikings going forward will not likely abandon trying to run the ball up the middle.   The next three games for the Vikings may reveal if the run defense is slipping as the Vikings face teams committed to running the ball in the Rams, Ravens and Steelers. 

Expect the Vikings run defense to step up their play as the unit is still among the very best in the league.

Pass Defense

Statistically, the Vikings pass defense has improved from last year as they are currently ranked 12th in the league as opposed to 18th in the league from last year.  Again, no need to go completely overboard with champagne as the spike in ranking equates to holding opponents to 5.3 fewer yards a game.

Cedric Griffin has done a good job with extra attention he receives player corner opposite All Pro Antoine Winfield.   Griffin has already grabbed two interceptions; he has five over his four-year career.

One glaring need to address in the passing game is figuring out how to defend passes over the middle.  Against Green Bay, the Vikings gave up six passing plays over 20 yards.  Five of the six big passing plays over 20 yards were on throws over the middle.   

Strong safety Tyrell Johnson and free safety Madieu Williams need to make more plays. 

Special Teams

The Special Teams play has improved from last year.  Coverage squads are doing a better job of staying in their lanes and not over committing early.

Punter Chris Kluwe continues to punt well with two coffin corner kicks against Green Bay.  Ryan Longwell is six for seven with his only miss coming from beyond 40 yards.

Harvin and Darius Raynaud have now made Viking opponents worry about their special teams’ coverage.

The Vikings have turned the corner on their special team problems from last year.

Looking Forward to this Weekend

The Vikings should roll over the St. Louis Rams this weekend as the Rams got stomped on by the San Francisco 49ers 35-0 last week and it does not look like their starting quarterback is going to be able to play. Right?

Well, a couple of reasons that the game could be a close hard fought battle:

1. The Vikings are emotionally spent after beating the Packers for their new leader.

2. Rams offensive tackles Alex Barron and Jason Smith are expected to play after missing last week’s game.

3. The Vikings are looking ahead to Baltimore and Pittsburgh instead of focusing in on the Rams.

4. Rams strong safety Craig Dahl and cornerback Ron Bartell return to the lineup to shore up the defense.

5. The Vikings coaching staff will outsmart themselves and allow the Rams to stay in the game.

A poor showing by the Vikings against the Rams will suggest that the Vikings aren’t quite ready to compete with the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints.

However, if the Vikings put the Rams away early it will be a sign that they are a serious Super Bowl contenders as they are clearly focused on getting to Miami.  

Expect the Vikings to join the Giants and Saints as the elite teams in the NFC.

 

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