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 updates on Sullivan, Ducasse and his own health

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 22nd at 3:49pm 280074832

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.”

Vikings Rewind: Chris Hogan's 28-yard catch

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 22nd at 10:47am 280056292

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Stacking up Bridgewater, offensive line emergency plan, more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 22nd at 9:43am 280031042

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

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— How does QB Teddy Bridgewater’s start stack up with other recent first-rounders?

— The Vikings on Sunday were an injury away from playing TE Rhett Ellison at tackle.

— Practice-squad QB Chandler Harnish is mentoring Gophers QB Mitch Leidner.

— Rookie RB Jerick McKinnon got it done after contact in Sunday’s loss to the Bills.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— The NFL suspended Buccaneers DE Da’Quan Bowers for taking PEDs.

— The Buccaneers signed return specialist Trindon Holliday yesterday.

— The Buccaneers gained ground in the division without playing Sunday.

— Should the Buccaneers stick with Mike Glennon at quarterback?

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings get back to business this morning. After the morning walkthrough, Bridgewater and head coach Mike Zimmer will have their press conferences at 11 a.m. Practice is at 12:50 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

In Bridgewater’s first two games, he was 12-for-17 on passes beyond 10 yards while averaging 13.7 yards per attempt, according to ESPN Stats and Info. In his past two games, Bridgewater is 5-for-17 with three interceptions, and he averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt on such throws.

Stacking Bridgewater's start up with other recent first-round quarterbacks

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 22nd at 7:46am 279968692

Teddy Bridgewater finally threw his first career touchdown pass in Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Bills. Before that, though, the rookie quarterback threw a pair of picks, pushing his season total to five.

All that got me thinking today about how long it has taken other recent first-round picks to throw their first touchdown passes and whether they threw a handful of picks early in their first seasons, too. And because I couldn’t think of anything more relaxing to do on an off day than dig through box scores and write blog posts, I decided to share what I found. You can draw your own conclusions.

ANDREW LUCK, COLTS: The first overall pick in 2012 started from Day One and was asked to throw a lot. He got his first TD pass on the 37th throw of his debut. He threw five picks in his first four games, with the fifth coming on his 159th career pass, but had seven touchdowns over that span.

ROBERT GRIFFIN III, REDSKINS: Griffin, the No. 2 pick in 2012, got his first TD pass the quickest out of the eight QBs taken in the first round the past three years. It took him just seven passes. He only threw five interceptions as a rookie, the fifth one coming on his 373rd pass as a professional.

RYAN TANNEHILL, DOLPHINS: It took Tannehill, who was also part of that 2012 quarterback crop, 65 passes to get his first touchdown. His fifth career interception came on his 133rd career throw.

BRANDON WEEDEN, BROWNS: I’ll be honest, I forgot Weeden was a first-round pick just two years ago and giggled a little bit when I saw his name. It took him just 111 throws to chuck up his fifth pick and his first touchdown came on his 58th throw. Weeden, of course, is no longer in Cleveland.

EJ MANUEL, BILLS: Manuel, the only first-round quarterback in 2013, threw his first career TD on the 15th pass of his debut. He was actually pretty cautious with the football as a rookie, throwing his fifth pick on his 258th pass, second to only RGIII. Manuel, of course, was benched early in 2014.

BLAKE BORTLES, JAGUARS: Bortles, the third overall pick in May, took just 14 passes to get his first career touchdown. Unfortunately, it only took him 74 passes to throw his fifth interception, fewer than even Bridgewater. Bortles has five touchdowns and 10 picks through his first five NFL games.

JOHNNY MANZIEL, BROWNS: Manziel, the latest QB of the future for the Browns, has only attempted one pass — an incompletion. But he could soon take over as Cleveland’s starter.

TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, VIKINGS: Finally, we have reached Teddy Time. Bridgewater, the 32nd overall pick in May, needed 101 throws to get his first touchdown pass, the most of the eight guys I looked at. He actually threw five interceptions before getting it. His fifth interception came on his 98th throw. Go ahead and draw conclusions on Bridgewater if you want, but I still need to see about 800 or so more throws before I’m ready to say whether he’s the Vikings’ long-term answer at QB.

Five Vikings stats that stand out for Week 8

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 21st at 3:42pm 279905762

Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.

96 — win probability, in percentage, for the Vikings before fourth and 20 on Sunday.

The Vikings had a victory within their grasp on Sunday when the Bills got the football with just over three minutes left. And you can’t ask for a much better opportunity to seize it than the one they got after a pair of sacks pushed the Bills back to fourth and 20. At that point, the Vikings had a win probability of 96 percent, according to advancedfootballanalytics.com, and the Bills had just a 12 percent chance of converting for a first down. But they did, and the Vikings’ win probability plummeted to 68 percent. The odds were still in their favor, but they couldn’t recover from that play.

22 — total quarterback pressures for left defensive end Brian Robison this season.

Right defensive end Everson Griffen is getting a lot of attention for his play, and rightfully so. After recording three sacks against the Bills, he now has seven on the season, tied for second in the NFL behind only Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who has eight. But believe it or not, Robison has been more disruptive based on the numbers from Pro Football Focus. Robison has only one half of a sack this season, but he has generated 22 total pressures, which ranks 11th in the NFL. Griffen, meanwhile, is tied for 19th with 19, though his pressures have been much more impactful.

65 — yards after contact per carry for running back Jerick McKinnon against the Bills.

Last week, head coach Mike Zimmer challenged the Vikings running backs to get him an average of three yards after contact per carry against the Bills. His rookie running back obliged and then some. According to Pro Football Focus, 65 of McKinnon’s 103 rushing yards came after a Bills defender put a hand on him. That’s an average of 3.4 yards after contact per carry. McKinnon also forced four missed tackles against the Bills. He had that many on the season entering the game.

one — pressures allowed by offensive linemen Joe Berger and Mike Harris in relief.

Thirteen plays into the 17-16 loss to the Bills, the Vikings lost a pair of starting offensive linemen on the same running play. Center John Sullivan suffered a concussion and right guard Vlad Ducasse hurt his knee, forcing Berger and Harris into action. Against a formidable Bills front, and with Harris playing a position he hadn’t played since peewee, that duo combined to allow just one pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. McKinnon also had success running behind those two.

two — sacks of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that came in 2.5 seconds or fewer.

The Vikings offensive line has been under the microscope after three straight games with at least five sacks allowed. But one statistic suggests that the issues in pass protection aren’t all on the big guys. According to Pro Football Focus, only two of the sacks Bridgewater has taken this season came within 2.5 seconds of the snap. The other 13 came after 2.5 seconds, which is tied for the seventh most in the league (keep in mind that Bridgewater has only played three and a half games). So maybe there is something to the rookie holding the ball a split second too long in the pocket.

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