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.
What did we learn at practice a few moments ago? That Audie Cole appears to know how to long snap well enough to get the ball to punter Jeff Locke without drawing too much attention.
Regular long-snapper Cullen Loeffler wasn’t at practice because, like the rest of Minnesota, he’s apparently sick. Presumably, he’ll play on Sunday, but we’ll get the official injury report after practice today.
Meanwhile, Chad Greenway also wasn’t at practice for the portion open to reporters. He hasn’t been on the injury report this week, so we’ll wait until after practice for the reason.
Linebacker Anthony Barr, who has missed the past two games because of a knee injury, wasn’t at practice. Look for him to miss a third straight game.
Left guard Charlie Johnson was at practice, but wasn’t participating.
Two players who hadn’t oracticed all week — tight end Kyle Rudolph and strong safety Robert Blanton — were practicing today.
For the Vikings’ final road trip this season to Miami, we reached out to Chris Perkins, who covers the Dolphins for The Sun Sentinel, in this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Perkins about the Week 16 matchup at Sun Life Stadium.
1. How would you evaluate the Dolphins’ play in December?
CP: The Dolphins have been bad in December. There’s no other way to tell the story. They’re 1-2, which means they’re struggling at the most important time of the season. In the last two games, losses to Baltimore and New England, they’ve been outscored, 48-3, in the second half. They’ve allowed 568 yards rushing in their last three games, produced three sacks, and only scored three touchdowns. The list goes on, but you get the idea.
2. What do you think will happen to head coach Joe Philbin at the end of the season?
CP: Philbin is probably done. You can’t say for sure, but it appears he won’t return. Philbin, in his third season, has a 22-24 record and will most likely miss the playoffs once again. It’s tough to say you’ve seen progress. Miami was 7-9 in Philbin’s first season, 8-8 last year, and might show one-game improvement this year. That’s after getting arguably the top free agent on the market the last two years (wide receiver Mike Wallace in 2013, and left tackle Branden Albert in 2014), changing offensive coordinators, and revamping the offensive line. The Dolphins have probably performed to their talent level, but Philbin never made them better. That’s a problem.
3. In what areas has quarterback Ryan Tannehill improved and regressed this season?
CP: Tannehill, now in his third season, has been better at decision-making, footwork and accuracy. But Tannehill, such as Philbin, never made anyone better. That’s a problem. Tannehill has career bests in completion percent (66.3; 6th in NFL), passer rating (90.8; 15th in NFL) and rushing yards (316). But his 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions are on the border of the minimally-desired 2:1 ratio. He’s near the bottom of the NFL in third-down passing (25th) and fourth-quarter passing (32nd), and he struggles with accuracy when throwing the deep ball so it’s almost been eliminated from the offense, making his completions mostly on short and intermediate passes and turning the Dolphins’ passing offense into a pedestrian way of moving the ball.
4. What’s the reason for the Dolphins’ success defensively?
CP: When the defense was successful it was because of the defensive line. But they’ve slumped severely in the last four games. So has the defense. Miami is seventh in total defense because of its early-season success. Defensive end Cameron Wake (9.5 sack) is a perfect metaphor. He has one sack in the last five games. In the last four games the Dolphins have allowed 121 points (30.3 per game). Granted, one touchdown came via a blocked field goal, but it’s still a bad four-game performance. The defense is no longer disruptive. They used to stop the run, get sacks and force turnovers. Those skills have evaporated. Miami’s defense isn’t to be feared the way it was earlier in the season.
5. What will the Dolphins need to do to beat the Vikings?
CP: The Dolphins need to do anything and everything possible to beat the Vikings. Their formula for winning – strong defense, a good running game, a decent passing game – is out the window. They need to find a Vikings weakness and exploit the heck out of it. The Dolphins (7-7) haven’t had a winning season since 2008. They badly need to win these final two games even though realistic playoff hopes are gone. Whatever it takes to win – special teams, interceptions, rushing, passing, good fortune – is what the Dolphins need.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Offensive coordinator Norv Turner had high praise for QB Teddy Bridgewater.
— The Christian Ponder era in Minnesota is about to come to a close.
— TE Kyle Rudolph missed another practice yesterday.
— Does WR Cordarrelle Patterson deserve more snaps?
— The Vikings and Dolphins have a limited but memorable history.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
Norv Turner started today’s press conference with a 545-word statement praising Teddy Bridgewater: Here it is: pic.twitter.com/Il4idpfPVi
— Matt Vensel (@mattvensel) December 18, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Dolphins players know the organization is in evaluation mode.
— Bridgewater, a Miami native, is silencing his doubters.
— Miami RB Lamar Miller is running down his first 1,000-yard season.
— Dolphins OT Dallas Thomas might not be able to play Sunday.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings practice at 10:50 a.m. Afterward, head coach Mike Zimmer will chat with reporters and the locker room will be open as players pack their bags for Saturday’s flight to Miami.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Pro Bowl voting has wrapped up, and two, maybe three Vikings have a legitimate shot at playing in the game. OLB Anthony Barr and DT Sharrif Floyd have had good seasons, but recent injuries have likely eliminated any possibility of them being selected. DE Everson Griffen and S Harrison Smith, on other the other hand, are strong candidates. And then there is CB Xavier Rhodes. Is his strong second half enough to get him into the Pro Bowl, especially with only one interception?
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was one of five starters to missed practice in consecutive days due to injury on Thursday.
Rudolph has been sidelined with an ankle/knee injury. Left guard Charlie Johnson (ankle), nose tackle Linval Joseph (illness), rookie linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee) also missed another practice this week. Blanton was conditioning on the side at the start of practice.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t specify but expected most of these guys to participate in Friday’s practice.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (hamstring) and running back Matt Asiata (foot) were all limited once again.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has carried the offense lacking stability at, well, every position, according to offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
The Vikings have used eight different offensive linemen, started three different tight ends and running backs while their most consistent receiver was a guy that started the season on the Browns practice squad — Charles Johnson.
Turner prefers not to throw a rookie quarterback into this environment, but he feels Bridgewater has thrived even with the heavy burden.
“It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it,” Turner said. “What he’s really done is made everyone around him better and that’s a quality you’re looking for.
“We’re asking him to carry this group, which I’ve never had to do that with a young guy. When I had [Troy] Aikman in his third year he had Emmitt Smith who led the league in rushing. When I had Alex Smith in his second year he had Frank Gore who ran for 1,700 yards and when I had Philip Rivers in his second year starting, I think it was his fourth year in the league, he had LaDainian Tomlinson who led the league in rushing.”
Bridgewater would’ve had running back Adrian Peterson, but he’s suspended for the remainder of the season. Instead, Bridgewater has had to rely on Matt Asiata, Ben Tate and Joe Banyard to help ease the load, which hasn’t been as effective as one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Still, the Vikings threw the ball 41 times against one of the top defenses in the NFL and completed a season high 75.6 percent of his passes. His start was marked by two interceptions on consecutive drives that helped the Lions climb out of a 14-0 deficit, but Turner defended the performance despite the turnovers.
“We’ve kind of had an interesting group and the people we’ve played on offense has been wide-ranging,” Turner said. “To do the things he’s done, it just tells you about the type of person he is, the type of player he is. The thing that excites me is he can make any throw you need him to make.”
|North Dakota St||52||FINAL|
|San Jose St||53||FINAL|
|Marshall||12/23/14 5:00 PM|
|Navy||12/23/14 8:30 PM|
|San Diego St|
|Central Mich||12/24/14 11:00 AM|
|Fresno State||12/24/14 7:00 PM|
|Illinois||12/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Rutgers||12/26/14 3:30 PM|
|NC State||12/26/14 7:00 PM|
|Cincinnati||12/27/14 12:00 PM|
|Duke||12/27/14 1:10 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Miami-Florida||12/27/14 3:00 PM|
|Boston College||12/27/14 3:30 PM|
|(25) Nebraska||12/27/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) South Carolina||84|
|Mount St Marys||49|
|William & Mary||51|
|South Dakota St||64||FINAL|
|(5) Notre Dame||64|
|(4) Texas A&M||65|
|Sam Houston St||55||FINAL|
|Coll of Charleston||72|
|(19) Oklahoma St||66||FINAL|
|(6) North Carolina||85|
|SE Missouri St||73|
|No Dakota State||54||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||49|
|(18) Michigan State||89||FINAL|
|(21) Miss State||68|