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.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was present at practice for the first time since he had sports hernia surgery.
Rudolph stretched at the start of practice but did not participate. Instead, he was conditioning on the side with linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring), who also did not participate.
Rudolph has missed the last four weeks recovering from the surgery he needed after Week 3 against the Saints. He was scheduled to return in six weeks, and it appears Rudolph could be on track to in that time frame barring any setbacks.
Center John Sullivan (concussion) did not participated while guard Vladimir Ducasse (knee) was limited. Both were on the field during stretch, but Sullivan went back inside during the start of individual drills. Ducasse remained on the field for practice, but Joe Berger and Mike Harris received first team reps at center and right guard.
Defensive end Corey Wootton (low back) returned to practice but was one of five Vikings limited. Along with Wootton, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle), cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) and safety Antone Exum Jr. (ankle) were limited.
The Vikings also removed linebacker Chad Greenway from the injury report. He returned to action against the Bills on Sunday, recovering from a rib/hand injury.
Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith doesn’t take kindly to hearing people bring up the popular belief that the Tampa 2-based defense is outdated and can’t win in today’s NFL, where quarterbacks are more accurate than ever.
“I’ve been doing this defense since 1996 and whoever says that doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Smith said on a conference all earlier today. “So I’m not even going to try to get into defending it.
“When people say [that about] the Tampa 2, it’s more than the Tampa 2. You play Cover 2, but it’s just a small part of what we do. Every team in the league plays some form of Cover 2. When it’s described that way and how it can’t work, Cover 2 has been around since the beginning of time and it’s not going anywhere.”
The Bucs are 1-5 heading into Sunday’s game against the 2-5 Vikings. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the former Vikings head coach and fellow Tampa 2 supporter, is struggling in the conversion to the Tampa 2. The Bucs rank last in yards allowed (422.8) and points allowed (34.0) per game.
Asked what led him to hiring Frazier, Smith said, “First off, we’re trying to win games. We’re trying to put together the best staff I possibly could. The year that I was off, I didn’t plan on having the opportunity to hire Leslie. But when he was available, I’ve known him a long time, I’ve competed against his teams for a long time. It was a natural fit. We both see things in a similar way. I couldn’t be happier to have him on my staff.
“For Leslie, I just thought he was a good football coach and would be great influencing out young men. And that’s how it’s been.”
Defensive end Michael Johnson left Cincinnati and signed with Tampa Bay within an hour of the start of free agency seven months ago. But he admits there was a part of him that wanted to follow his “father figure,” Mike Zimmer, from his defensive coordinator stint in Cincinnati to his first head coaching job in Minnesota.
“Of course,” Johnson said today. “I came into the league under Coach Zimmer. I learned a lot under him. He’s a great coach and a great, great guy. It was a pleasure playing under him.
“That Bengals team last year, there’s been a lot of different changes and people went in different directions. Zim talked about that, saying that’s what happens when teams develop and win. Everybody gets an opportunity to continue on. That’s what happened with me and that’s what happened with him. I’m glad he got his shot. I know he’s going to do great things up there.”
Johnson got a five-year, $43.8 million deal with $24 million guaranteed to join the Bucs. He was one of several shiny new pieces that were added to a team that was widely considered to be the winner of this year’s free agency period.
Unfortunately for Johnson and the Bucs, the bottom line on the field has been a 1-5 record heading into Sunday’s home game against the 2-5 Vikings.
Johnson said he’s used some of Zimmer’s words of wisdom to help him get through the rough start. Asked to describe Zimmer in one word, Johnson didn’t hesitate.
“Tough,” he said.
“The way he approached things. We had a bad year my second year. But he always said it doesn’t matter what was going on. He’d say, `Tough times don’t last, tough people do.’ That was his mentality. These first six games here have been tough times down here. So tough times don’t last but tough people do. I’ve taken that with me from Cincinnati. I try to apply that not only in football but life as well.”
The 6-7, 260-pound defensive end was a third-round pick of the Bengals in 2009. Later that season is when Zimmer’s wife Vikki died unexpectedly at age 50. Although it came during the season, Zimmer still coached and helped the Bengals beat the Ravens.
“He went through that tough situation up there and handled it better than I would ever imagine anybody handling it,” Johnson said. “Just watching him and how he always was professional and came into work every day, trying to get the best out of you every day, that really rubbed off on all of us.
“e’s a great coach and a great man. He’s like a father figure to a lot of us up there. And the guys on offense will tell you the same thing. They weren’t working directly with him, but everybody likes Zim. He was straight up. He can be hard on you, but he was like that with everybody. You respect that about him. Guys are always going to play hard for him because you don’t ever want to let him down. You don’t want to let Zim down.”
Johnson’s new defensive coordinator is Leslie Frazier, Zimmer’s predecessor in Minnesota. Asked to describe Frazier in one word, Johnson was stumped.
“I’m still getting to know Coach Frazier so I don’t know if I can just put a word out there just yet that would describe him,” Johnson said. “You’re talking about five years with Coach Zim to get one word. I’ve barely had five months with Coach Frazier.
“But he’s cool. Coach Frazier, he’s a Southern guy as well. He’s a little more laid back. But he’s also a realist. He’ll tell you how it is as well. And he’s very positive. Always positive and believes in guys. You can feel that. So in the same sense, with him the way he believes in us, it makes us want to go out there and not let him down also. It’s been kind of frustrating because I want to be better and I want us to be better because Leslie is a good dude, man. We owe him more than we’ve been about to give him so far. But we’re going to get it going. We have a new start coming off the bye this week.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer expects center John Sullivan and guard Vladimir Ducasse will be fine for Sunday’s road game against the Buccaneers.
Sullivan passed has passed his first concussion protocol test, while Ducasse walked around the locker room on Wednesday without a brace. Ducasse said his knee was feeling better after falling on it during the first quarter on the same play Sullivan left due to a concussion against the Bills.
“I don’t know how, but I just fell and fell on top of the knee,” Ducasse said. “That was about it. I went to get up, and I couldn’t put weight on my foot. But I’m fine.”
Neither returned to the game with Joe Berger filling in at center and Mike Harris at right guard in the 17-16 loss on Sunday, but Zimmer was optimistic about the two biggest injury concerns this week.
As for his own health, Zimmer had his kidney stones removed on Tuesday. He missed practice on Friday due to a minor procedure but still coached with kidney stones on Sunday. It was about as painful as it sounds, but the health issue has finally been resolved.
“[Tuesday] wasn’t pleasant at all,” Zimmer said. “[Head Athletic Trainer] Eric Sugarman was talking to the team today, and I told him to get the video of the procedure that I had done to show the team. I think there would’ve been some [players] throwing up or something.”
The situation: With the Vikings up 16-10, the Bills faced a 2nd and 20 at the Vikings’ 30 with 27 seconds left.
The reason: The Vikings caught a break on the previous drive with quarterback Kyle Orton called for intentional grounding, pushing the Bills back 10 yards and burning 10 seconds on the clock. The Bills needed to gain a decent chunk here for a manageable third down and no timeouts.
The result: Orton found wide receiver Chris Hogan for a 28-yard gain that brought the Bills down to the 2.
How it happened:
The Bills have trips left bunched tight in the formation with rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins isolated on the right. They’re in an “11″ personnel, with running back Anthony Dixon in the backfield and tight end Scott Chandler lined up between wide receivers Robert Woods and Hogan.
The Vikings were in the nickel package, subbing out linebacker Jasper Brinkley for cornerback Josh Robinson. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn slid into the slot with Robinson covering Watkins.
It appeared that the cornerbacks were in man coverage, while linebackers Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway dropped into zone to cover the middle of the field. Woods (circled in black) and Hogan (circled in red) both initially appeared to run “out” routes near the sideline. The Bills didn’t have any timeouts and needed to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Munnerlyn (circled) in blue and Rhodes (circled in yellow) both broke on the coverage with Chandler drawing linebacker and safety attention on his post route down the middle of the field.
Except Hogan did not run an “out” route and made a double move on Rhodes, who was initially out of position but caught back up with his speed. This was the point when Orton released the ball. It’s tough to tell but Rhodes has a step on Hogan at this point.
What happened from there was pretty unbelievable given where Rhodes was at this point. Here’s the GIF of the play to follow along with three screenshots of a great angle from the broadcast.
Again, Rhodes was in good position to make a play. He was in front of Hogan and tracked the ball down. He had his inside shoulder in front of Hogan, which was exactly how Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer taught his cornerbacks since Day 1 in terms of technique.
But Hogan had better anticipation and caught the ball at its highest point, which is exactly what a receiver is supposed to do. He bumped into Rhodes while leaping for the catch, which threw Rhodes off balance. He didn’t get vertical on the ball as a result. Some might think that’s offensive pass interference, but it was a good no call.
“[Rhodes] recovered [from the double move], he pinned the guy on the sideline, had him on his back and the guy went up and made a catch,” Zimmer said. “Other than when you get in that position, making the play, and that’s the thing I talk to the players about – part of my job is to get them in the right position to be able to make the play and when they get in position their job is to make the play. He’s been in those positions a lot and made an awful lot of plays. With the receivers in the NFL and the quarterbacks, they’re going to make some plays too.”
Blanton was late to help, a he had to account for Chandler running down the middle of the field. Safety Harrison Smith had to help Robinson over the top to cover Watkins on the other side of the play.
“These things are all learning experiences for them,” Zimmer said. “Like with Xavier Rhodes, he’s played very, very well the last four or five ball games and there is a couple of situations there at the end that he needs to realize where he’s at. I think all of those things are going to come from experience of being in these situations, understanding the clock and the timeouts, and the field position, and everything else.
The 4th and 20 play was definitely the biggest blunder for the Vikings on that drive, but it amazes me how Rhodes didn’t make a play on the ball. I’ve felt like I’ve said this a few times already this season, but Rhodes should’ve had his first career interception. But even if he deflected the ball, the Bills would’ve faced a 3rd and 20 with about 15 seconds left.
Instead, the Vikings suffered their third consecutive loss.
|Kansas City - J. Guthrie||7:07 PM|
|San Francisco - T. Hudson|
|Detroit||10/26/14 8:30 AM|
|Buffalo||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Minnesota||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Seattle||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Miami||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Chicago||10/26/14 12:00 PM|
|Philadelphia||10/26/14 3:05 PM|
|Oakland||10/26/14 3:25 PM|
|Indianapolis||10/26/14 3:25 PM|
|Green Bay||10/26/14 7:30 PM|
|Washington||10/27/14 7:30 PM|
|New York||6:30 PM|
|San Antonio||7:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||7:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina||31|
|So Florida||6:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||9:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|UAB||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Rutgers||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Texas||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Minnesota||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|Memphis||10/25/14 11:00 AM|
|North Carolina||10/25/14 11:30 AM|
|San Jose St||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||10/25/14 12:00 PM|
|(25) UCLA||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Akron||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ohio U||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Ga Southern||10/25/14 1:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/25/14 1:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisiana Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Miss State||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(22) West Virginia||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Michigan||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|(8) Michigan State|
|Boston College||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||10/25/14 2:30 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|UNLV||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Temple||10/25/14 4:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona||10/25/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Wyoming||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Syracuse||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas State||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|(3) Ole Miss||10/25/14 6:15 PM|
|(4) Alabama||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/25/14 6:30 PM|
|(13) Ohio State||10/25/14 7:00 PM|
|(20) USC||10/25/14 9:00 PM|
|(14) Arizona State||10/25/14 9:45 PM|
|Nevada||10/25/14 10:59 PM|
|(2) Florida State||10/30/14 6:30 PM|
|Troy||10/30/14 6:30 PM|
|Hamilton||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||10/25/14 6:00 PM|
|Hamilton||10/31/14 6:30 PM|
|Winnipeg||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|Toronto||11/2/14 11:00 AM|