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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Zimmer on fourth-and-20: 'I should've called timeout'

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 21st at 7:24am 279825742

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said after Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Bills that there would be some second guessing on his part. After watching the film, Zimmer said on Monday that he should’ve called a timeout prior to the Bills converting on a fourth-and-20 during the final drive.

The Vikings had all three timeouts prior to the play, which resulted in a 31-yard completion from quarterback Kyle Orton to Scott Chandler. Zimmer thought in hindsight the timeout would’ve settled the defense during a no-huddle situation.

“I think we miscalculated the down and distance they were in,” Zimmer said. “We all knew it was fourth down. I just don’t know they had the distance they had to go and we ended up being short on the route.

“Thinking on the plane last night and after the play, I should have done it. And we still had a chance to stop them there at the end.”

The fourth-and-20, though, stands out.  Zimmer said linebacker Chad Greenway was too shallow on the play. He also was still communicating with the secondary to make sure everyone was aligned as the ball was snapped. It’s part of Greenway’s job to correct the defense’s alignment, Zimmer said.

The Bills ran 34 seconds off the clock after defensive tackle Tom Johnson sacked Orton with 1:51 left in the game to snap the ball on 4th down. It was a fairly difficult distance with the game on the line that could cause a head coach not to call a timeout. Everything was going in the Vikings factor, and there’s that perception among some head coaches that don’t like to use timeouts on defense that Zimmer also holds.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, I’ve always worked for a lot of guys that don’t like calling timeouts on defense because you don’t like wasting them,” Zimmer said. “That is a little bit of my mentality too is, ‘Hey, let’s get lined up, do what we’re supposed to do and everything will be good.’ Whereas probably in that situation — the hecticness of everything that was going on — I probably should have used it and explained to them. We saw all their two-minute routes before, so the routes they ran were not any surprise.”

In a similar situation last season against Washington, the Vikings did the exact opposite under former head coach Leslie Frazier. Up 34-27, the Vikings burned two timeouts when the clock was running while Washington faced first-and-10 at the Vikings 25 with 1:20 left and a second-and-goal at the 4. Quarterback Robert Griffin III threw three incompletions on the final three plays to turn the ball over on downs and seal the Vikings win, but Frazier was criticized in the moment for burning two timeouts while the clock ran.

It somehow worked, while Zimmer’s approach didn’t. We’ll see in the future if the first-year head coach changes his mentality about timeouts if he’s faced with similar situation this season.

Backup Mike Harris hadn't played guard 'since Pop Warner, 10 years old'

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated October 20th at 2:03pm 279811732

To say Vikings backup tackle Mike Harris was unprepared to play right guard in a pinch in Sunday’s game at Buffalo is a bit of an understatement.

“I never played played guard,” he said. “Ever.”

Surely, Harris has gotten some practice reps at guard. You know, just in case. Right?

“Never,” he said. “I’ve never [played guard], probably since Pop Warner, 10 years old, that’s the last time I played guard.”

OK. So he had played guard. But there’s a bit of a leap from Pop Warner to standing on the sideline with about four minutes left in the first quarter of an NFL game. You look up and not one but two offensive linemen are injured and coming to the sideline for the rest of the game.

One is center John Sullivan (concussion), which doesn’t affect you because Joe Berger is the backup interior lineman who specializes in playing center. But the other is right guard Vladimir Ducasse (knee), which is a problem because the team has only seven linemen active and you’re the swing tackle.

“We didn’t even call timeout,” Harris said. “I had to run in and coach was like, `Play right guard.’  And I’m like, `What? I’ve never done it in my whole life.’”

“But I had fun. I haven’t played really since the preseason so it was cool being out there with my guys and just playing hard for the team. I had a great time.  I competed my butt off. ”

Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon had 14 of his 19 carries and 74 of his 103 yards rushing with Berger and Harris in the game. McKinnon ran the ball nine times for 60 yards behind those two.

“I just went in and did my job,” Harris said. “I kind of liked it. I liked being inside.”

Counting snaps: Breaking down the Vikings' 17-16 loss at Buffalo

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated October 20th at 9:47am 279779762

Trying to find some more meaning in snap counts from the Vikings’ 17-16 loss at Buffalo on Sunday …

OFFENSIVE SNAPS: 64.

OFFENSIVE LINE: LT Matt Kalil 64, LG Charlie Johnson 64, RT Phil Loadholt 64, C Joe Berger 51, RG Mike Harris 51, C John Sullivan 13, RG Vladimir Ducasse 13, G David Yankee INA, G Austin Wentworth INA.

Thoughts: We saw the Falcons forced to use a tight end at right tackle when they suffered three injuries on the offensive line in Week 4 at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings were one injury from finding themselves in a similar situation on Sunday. They had only seven linemen active and had to use the extra two when center John Sullivan and right guard Vladimir Ducasse were injured on the same play with 3:49 left in the first quarter. Berger can play all three interior positions and could start for some teams, so he’s been nice insurance for a few years now. He played well at center. Harris sees more practice reps at tackle, but he stepped in at guard and held his own. Running back Jerick McKinnon had 14 of his 19 carries and 74 of his 103 yards rushing with Berger and Harris in the game. McKinnon ran nine times for 60 yards (6.7) behind Berger and Harris. And the Bills went into the game with the No. 1 run defense in the league. One could argue – and many already have and will continue throughout the week – that the two emergency starters played better than left tackle Matt Kalil. Unfortunately for Kalil, he plays a position where anything less than 100 percent is considered a problem when the team is losing. He did some nice work, but a couple of glaring breakdowns against Jerry Hughes, particularly the one sack on first-and-goal from the 7, overshadow everything else.

QUARTERBACKS: Teddy Bridgewater 64, Christian Ponder DNP.

Thoughts: Bridgewater played OK after settling down. But interceptions on back-to-back throws during an 0-for-6 stretch in the first half are hard to overcome. The second one led to a one-play touchdown drive. Not good in a one-point loss. But these are the things that usually happen when a rookie starts on a team that’s not ready-made for him.

RUNNING BACKS: Jerick McKinnon 38, Matt Asiata 26, FB Jerome Felton 14, FB Zach Line INA.

Thoughts: Considering McKinnon’s size, this is about as close to ideal as one should hope for when it comes to snap counts. He played 59 percent of the snaps and touched the ball 21 times. He averaged 5.4 yards on 19 carries. Push it too much more and there’s a danger of him breaking down. Asiata averaged 4.0 yards on six carries. He runs extremely hard when given opportunities, but he’s just not a No. 1 back. Felton had the first two carries of his Vikings career, not counting the one Pro Bowl he played in. He caught the Bills off-guard with a 21-yard run off the left side, but also was stopped for no gain on third-and-one. The longest run against the Bills was 16 yards before Felton and McKinnon (29) broke a couple of long ones.

RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS: TE Rhett Ellison 51, WR Cordarrelle Patterson 50, WR Greg Jennings 50, TE Chase Ford 41, WR Jarius Wright 36, WR Adam Thielen 13, Charles Johnson 1, TE Kyle Rudolph INA.

Thoughts: Patterson was targeted only four times, catching two passes for nine yards in what has become one of the most consistent storylines of the season. But he did catch a short touchdown pass, the team’s first touchdown reception since the first drive in Week 2. Jennings had one of his better games, catching six of the seven balls thrown his way, including a deep ball for 38 yards. The veteran also helped Bridgewater setting down after his second interception, telling him, as Bridgewater later revealed, “Hey, ya know, whatever is going on up in that head, up in that computer of yours, just reboot it.” Ellison played the most snaps of this group, 51, but was used primarily as an extra blocker against the league’s No. 1 run defense. He didn’t catch the one ball thrown to him. Ford, the other tight end who played on offense, also went without a catch on three balls thrown to him.

DEFENSIVE SNAPS: 70.

DEFENSIVE LINE: DE Everson Griffen 67, DE Brian Robison 65, NT Linval Joseph 47, DT Sharrif Floyd 42, DT Ted Johnson 30, NT Shamar Stephen 21, DE Scott Crichton 8, DE Corey Wootton INA.

Thoughts: If the Vikings hadn’t, you know, blown that last Bills possession, we’d all be talking about how the six sacks that the defensive line posted, including two in three plays during the Bills’ game-winning drive. Griffen had three sacks in critical moments that should have contributed to a win. Unfortunately for the Vikings, none of them came when the Bills were facing fourth-and-20 and third-and-12 on their final possession. Johnson’s sack did come on third-and-17 on that drive. And Joseph’s sack came two plays earlier at midfield. But the fourth-and-20 conversion overshadowed both sacks. Joseph also had a sack and appeared to have another solid week. Floyd went into the game listed as questionable (elbow), but handled his usual workload. Rookie Crichton saw his first reps since the opener when Wootton couldn’t play because of a lower back injury.

LINEBACKERS: OLB Anthony Barr 70, OLB Chad Greenway 65, MLB Jasper Brinkley 33, OLB Brandon Watts INA, OLB Gerald Hodges INA.

Thoughts: With Hodges and Watts both inactive, the Vikings rode Greenway for 65 snaps after he had missed the past three weeks because of broken ribs and a broken hand. He also played four special teams snaps. Greenway responded with a game-high 15 tackles and a forced fumble in the red zone. He also was beaten on the fourth-and-20 completion. Barr was outstanding with a game-high eight solo tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defense in the red zone against Sammy Watkins. Brinkley was a step slow and fell trying to get to C.J. Spiller before he got to the edge and broke free for a 53-yard run.

SECONDARY: SS Robert Blanton 70, FS Harrison Smith 70, CB Captain Munnerlyn 70, CB Xavier Rhodes 69, CB Josh Robinson 41, CB Jabari Price 1.

Thoughts: The first thought is, wow, what a weapon Darrelle Revis is. Darrelle Revis? Yeah, the Patriots cornerback shadowed Sammy Watkins seven days before Watkins faced the Vikings. Against the Patriots, Watkins was thrown to three times and caught two passes that weren’t even noticed. Against the Vikings, Watkins was an unstoppable force. He was thrown to 14 times, caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner from 2 yards with one second left. Watkins took turns beating each of the Vikings’ top three corners. He flat out burned Munnerlyn for a 26-yard score. He was too quick for Robinson on a slant that gained 18 yards on third-and-12 on the winning drive. And he beat Rhodes for the game-winner. Rhodes missed one play, walking off after appearing to be shaken up. Blanton remains the only Vikings defender to have played every snap this season. He notched the first interception of his career on an overthrow by Kyle Orton.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Team-high snaps: 19 by LB Michael Mauti, S Antone Exum and S Andrew Sendejo.

Overall team-high snaps: Blanton 78 (70 defense, 8 special teams), Smith 77 (70 defense, 7 special teams).

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Bills stun the Vikings, hat trick for Griffen, Zimmer's pain and more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 20th at 6:07am 279748332

Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— The Bills scored with one second left to hand the Vikings another loss.

— DE Everson Griffen tied a career high with three sacks in the loss.

— QB Teddy Bridgewater stabilized after a shaky start yesterday.

— OT Matt Kalil squandered an opportunity to fly under the radar.

— How much pain can head coach Mike Zimmer take in his first season?

— Zimmer focused on the positive after the stomach-punch ending.

— S Harrison Smith has loved to hit something ever since he was a kid.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— Bills QB Kyle Orton was cool and collected on the game-winning drive.

— The Bills lost their top two running backs in the win over the Vikings.

— The Vikings defense frustrated the Bills with their pass rush yesterday.

— Despite the thrilling win, the Bills have the mark of a middling team.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings are back at Winter Park today to attend team meetings and review the tape from yesterday’s loss. Head coach Mike Zimmer will have his weekly press conference at 2 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Yesterday’s 17-16 loss was the first Vikings game this season that was decided by single digits and only the team’s second in its past 10 games dating back to 2013. OLB Chad Greenway remarked that the loss was eerily similar to some of the ones from last season. But the Vikings were better in close games than it might have seemed. They were 4-4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Everson Griffen shines, not satisfied in loss

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 19th at 9:56pm 279723352

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen tied a career-high three sacks and a forced fumble in the 17-16 loss to the Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and he didn’t feel any personal satisfaction for his individual performance.

“No man, we want the victory,” Griffen said. “It feels better if you get the victory. Three sacks doesn’t mean anything when you lose. We just have to keep going out there, grind next week, get back to the basics and finish better.”

The Vikings defense recorded six sacks and eight quarterback hits, applying pressure on Bills quarterback Kyle Orton for the entire game. The unit played well up until the final drive when the Bills scored on a two-yard touchdown catch by Bills rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins with one second left to take the lead.

“It all starts with the team,” Griffen said. “We run together as a team, we lose together as a team. We just have to go back to the basics and finish. We’re of the mindset that you’re not going to score if you don’t get the sack, if you don’t get the turnover and if you don’t finish the play. I think that’s going to work out for us. We just have to bounce back from this tough loss. We played our tails off today.

Many questioned why the Vikings re-signed Griffen to a five-year deal worth up to $42.5 million in the offseason, but he’s currently tied for an NFL-high seven sacks this year.

“Without my team, I wouldn’t be able to get three sacks,” Griffen said. “I’m just very happy to be playing with these guys, and we just have to bounce back and win the game. That’s all we have to do.”

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