Access Vikings

Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


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Cassel and Patterson find a deep (TD) connection

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 25th at 12:15am 272458241

After a missed connection on a deep ball in last week’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel and second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson got it right tonight.

On the team’s opening drive, which started at their 3-yard line, Cassel froze the Chiefs defense with a play-action fake and fired a 53-yard touchdown pass to Patterson, who had gotten behind Chiefs second-string safety Daniel Sorensen. It was an accurate throw by Cassel and Patterson did a good job of tracking the ball before making an over-the-shoulder catch and coasting into the end zone.

“It was a play that we had worked on throughout the week and we had yet to throw the ball to Cordarrelle on it,” Cassel said, who was 2-for-2 for 84 yards on the opening drive. “He got on top of the safety and I was able to see it and give him an opportunity, and he went and made a great play.”

Patterson said he could feel a big play coming when Cassel barked out the play call in the huddle. He just figured the play would come from fellow wide receiver Greg Jennings on that particular play.

“Matt did a heck of a job putting it out there,” said Patterson, who had three catches. “I felt like the ball wasn’t even coming my way because in practice, we go over it every week and he always throws it to Greg. Before the play, I told Greg, ‘I got you.’ And Matt did a heck of a job getting it out to me.”

How unusual was Saturday's stellar red-zone play? Let us count the ways

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated August 25th at 6:52am 272486651

How unusual was it was to witness with our very own eyes the Minnesota Vikings making not one, but two game-altering defensive plays in the red zone during Saturday night’s 30-12 preseason victory at Kansas City?

Well, let’s rewind to last season to answer that one.

According to official NFL statistical data, only the historically putrid Dallas Cowboys defense gave up more red zone touchdowns (40) than the Vikings did (39) in 2013. From a percentage standpoint, the Vikings allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 61.9 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line a year ago. That was seventh-worst in the league and third-worst in the NFC.

Saturday night, the Chiefs moved the ball inside the 20 three times against the Vikings’ first-team defense in the first half. They scored ZERO touchdowns and one field goal while throwing two interceptions.

The first interception came on first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. And the guy who made the play, Captain Munnerlyn, actually baited the quarterback, the normally ball-secure Alex Smith, into throwing the ill-advised pass. Munnerlyn gave Smith a false sense of an open window and then jumped the route with an instinctive flash that we never saw his predecessor — Chris Cook — make during four interception-free seasons.

It wasn’t a third-down play, but, hey, the Vikings also need some work on their first-down pass defense. A year ago, teams completed 67.1 percent of their first-down passes against the Vikings. That was fourth-worst in the league.

Later in Saturday’s first half, linebacker Chad Greenway read Smith’s eyes, sat on a route and caught a ball that was thrown right to him. That came on third-and-four at the Vikings’ 11. And if you assume that defenders always catch footballs thrown directly at them, then you haven’t been watching the Vikings in recent years.

A year ago, the Vikings were last in the league in pass completions allowed for first downs (15.4 per game). They also were 30th in third-down conversions allowed (44 percent).

Saturday night, Smith converted 3 of 7 third-down situations while attempting to pass. He completed passes of 18 and 11 yards, and had a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Josh Robinson. He also  was sacked once and threw an interception.

Overall, Chiefs quarterbacks converted 4 of 10 third downs while attempting passes. They were sacked twice and threw two picks on third downs.

MRI verifies that Loadholt's ankle injury is minor

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 24th at 8:26pm 272485091

Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt, who sat out one series during last night’s win over the Kansas City Chiefs because of an ankle injury, checked out fine after undergoing an MRI in the Twin Cities this morning, according to a source. Loadholt suffered an ankle contusion, but there is no sprain.

Loadholt suffered the injury in the first quarter of the 30-12 win over the Chiefs and headed into the bowels of Arrowhead Stadium for x-rays. But after rookie Austin Wentworth played his right tackle spot for one series, Loadholt returned from the locker room to rejoin the Vikings’ starters.

Afterward, head coach Mike Zimmer said the medical staff didn’t “believe it’s anything real serious.”

Zimmer hasn’t revealed his plans for Thursday night’s preseason finale, but typically teams don’t play their starters in the fourth preseason game, so chances are we won’t see Loadholt. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to fear that he won’t be on the field for the season opener Sept. 7.

Cassel and Patterson find a deep (TD) connection

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 24th at 7:26pm 272469061

After a missed connection on a deep ball in last week’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel and second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson got it right tonight.

On the team’s opening drive, which started at their 3-yard line, Cassel froze the Chiefs defense with a play-action fake and fired a 53-yard touchdown pass to Patterson, who had gotten behind Chiefs second-string safety Daniel Sorensen. It was an accurate throw by Cassel and Patterson did a good job of tracking the ball before making an over-the-shoulder catch and coasting into the end zone.

“It was a play that we had worked on throughout the week and we had yet to throw the ball to Cordarrelle on it,” Cassel said, who was 2-for-2 for 84 yards on the opening drive. “He got on top of the safety and I was able to see it and give him an opportunity, and he went and made a great play.”

Patterson said he could feel a big play coming when Cassel barked out the play call in the huddle. He just figured the play would come from fellow wide receiver Greg Jennings on that particular play.

“Matt did a heck of a job putting it out there,” said Patterson, who had three catches. “I felt like the ball wasn’t even coming my way because in practice, we go over it every week and he always throws it to Greg. Before the play, I told Greg, ‘I got you.’ And Matt did a heck of a job getting it out to me.”

Munnerlyn gets first interception with Vikings

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated August 23rd at 11:59pm 272457681

Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, one of the Vikings’ prized additions in the offseason, intercepted his first pass in purple in the first quarter of tonight’s preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

With the Chiefs in the red zone and threatening to tie the game, Munnerlyn jumped in front of Chiefs wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., who was running a deep post through the end zone.

“I was playing Cover Three man and I had outside leverage,” he said. “I knew I was close to the end zone so I knew he couldn’t run by me. He had to stop soon. So I undercut him and made a play.”

But then Munnerlyn, who has returned five of his seven regular-season interceptions for scores, admittedly made the mistake of trying to run the ball out of the end zone instead of taking a knee and taking the touchback. The poor field position preceded a Matt Cassel sack, fumble and safety.

“I should have stayed in the end zone to give the offense better field position,” he said. “But it’s the preseason. In a game situation, I know I’ve got to make a better judgment and get on a knee.”

The interception was the first of three for the Vikings, who picked off starter Alex Smith twice.

“Usually when you get around the quarterback, good things happen,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.

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