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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Five Vikings stats that stand out for Week 17

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated December 23rd at 11:47am 286685161

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

112 — games since the last time a Mike Zimmer defense allowed 493-plus total yards.

On Monday, the first-year Vikings coach was still irked about how his defense played in the 37-35 loss to the Dolphins, and rightfully so. The Dolphins scored touchdowns on four straight drives in the second half to erase a double-digit deficit. Led by 396 passing yards from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins produced 493 yards of total offense, the most the Vikings had allowed all season. It was also the most total yards a Mike Zimmer defense had allowed in game since Dec. 30, 2007, Zimmer’s final game in his only season as defensive coordinator of the sinking-ship Falcons.

12 — games this season in which the Vikings have allowed 100 or more rushing yards.

The Dolphins did most of their damage through the air Sunday, but they also rumbled for 116 yards on the ground. That’s nothing new for the Vikings. In 12 of their 15 games this season, they’ve allowed 100 or more rushing yards, including in six of their past seven games. The Vikings now rank 25th in the NFL in rushing defense, which cannot sit well with Zimmer, who like most defensive coaches takes pride in stopping the run. In Zimmer’s six years in Cincinnati, the Bengals never finished in the bottom 10 in run defense, and under his watch they ranked as high as fifth, in 2013.

four — straight games with a completion percentage over 70 for Teddy Bridgewater.

I wrote about Bridgewater’s accuracy in this space a week ago, and I’m going to do it again today because not many of his passes have hit the ground in recent weeks. In each of his past four games, the rookie QB has completed at least 70.4 percent of his passes. Against the Lions in Week 15, he completed 31 of 41 attempts. Against the Dolphins, he connected on 19 of 26, and that’s not accounting for drops. His completion percentage has risen to 64.2, putting him closer to Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie record of 66.4 percent. Catching Big Ben by Sunday will be tough, though.

117 — receiving yards given up in coverage Sunday by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Munnerlyn has had an up-and-down season in his first season in Minnesota, and Sunday’s game might have been the low point. Munnerlyn was targeted a season-high 10 times, according to Pro Football Focus, and allowed a season-high eight receptions for 117 yards, also a season high. He was twice beat for 40-plus-yard gains on long Dolphins touchdown drives. Only six NFL cornerbacks have allowed a higher catch rate than Munnerlyn’s 69.7, but then again, 35 corners have been targeted more often, which also says something. He has been OK, but he can play better.

one — NFL teams that have won on a go-ahead safety in the final minute of regulation.

After the Dolphins stunned the Vikings late in regulation when Dolphins defensive end Terrence Fede blocked a punt that resulted in the game-winning safety, I asked defensive end Everson Griffen if he had ever seen a game decided by a safety before. Nope. That’s probably because it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Teams have won with safeties in overtime before, but according to Elias, the Dolphins were the first team to score a game-winning safety in the final minute of regulation. It was another wild finish for the Vikings, who have experienced a bunch these past two seasons.

Vikings NFL Draft Order: Week 17

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated December 23rd at 11:43am 286682041

We’re finally here. Week 17. The draft order should be finalized by Sunday, barring any necessary coin toss tiebreakers.

The Vikings lost to the Dolphins, 37-35, on Sunday to ensure a losing season. They sit at 6-9 heading into the season finale against the Bears at TCF Bank Stadium. Here’s how it impacted their draft spot if the season ended today with record, strength of schedule tiebreaker (if necessary) and upcoming opponent listed in parentheses:

  1. Tennessee (2-13) (.487) (vs. Indianapolis on Sunday)
  2. Tampa Bay (2-13) (.491) (vs. New Orleans on Sunday)
  3. Jacksonville (3-12) (.513) (at Houston on Sunday)
  4. NY Jets (3-12) (.551) (at Miami on Sunday)
  5. Oakland (3-12) (.560) (at Denver on Sunday)
  6. Washington (4-11) (vs. Dallas on Sunday)
  7. Chicago (5-10) (at Minnesota on Sunday)
  8. Atlanta (6-9)(.484) (vs. Carolina on Sunday)
  9. Minnesota (6-9) (.491) (vs. Chicago on Sunday)
  10. NY Giants (6-9) (.507) (vs. Philadelphia on Sunday)
  11. New Orleans (6-9) (.509) (at Tampa Bay on Sunday)
  12. St. Louis (6-9) (.516) (at Seattle on Sunday)

With the loss, the Vikings jumped two spots to the hold the No. 9 pick if the season ended today. They’re assured a top 13 pick with one game remaining but the highest selection the Vikings can make is the seventh overall pick.

The Vikings sit in a five-way tie at 6-9 with every team eliminated from the playoffs except the Falcons, who can clinch the NFC South with a win over the Panthers. The weak strength of schedule has helped the Vikings vault back into the top 10. Only the Falcons have a lower strength of schedule percentage than the Vikings among the five teams through 15 games.

So here are your draft scenarios, one last time, if the Vikings win or lose against the Bears:

If the Vikings lose: They’d have either the seventh or eighth overall pick, depending on the outcome of the Falcons-Panthers game. If the Vikings lose and the Falcons win, the Vikings would have the seventh overall pick. If they both lose, there’s a chance the Vikings’ strength of schedule could dip below Atlanta and still grab the seventh pick.

The Vikings would also leapfrog the Bears, who would also finish at 6-10, due to the strength of schedule tiebreaker. The Bears currently have a .531 strength of schedule percentage, which will not drop below the Vikings regardless of Sunday’s results.

The Vikings had the eighth overall pick last year. They traded down one spot with the Browns to select linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick.

If the Vikings win: The Vikings would pick somewhere between No. 9 and 13. The Bears would lock up the seventh overall pick with a loss, and the Vikings would also fall behind the loser of the Falcons-Panthers contest that will finish with six wins.

The rest depends on the how the Rams, Saints, Giants and Browns fare in their matchups. Among those teams, only the Giants and Saints are playing teams eliminated from the playoffs.

I left out the 49ers, who sit at 7-8, in this scenario due to their strength of schedule percentage (.520). Even if both teams are tied at 7-9 with a Vikings win and a 49ers loss, the Vikings will hold the tiebreaker due to their strength of schedule (.491). The 49ers won’t close that gap once all the games are played.

Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, the Vikings should finish with a good pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Zimmer reflects on worst defensive outing this year

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated December 23rd at 8:52am 286667681

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

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Mike Zimmer was still bothered by the defense’s performance in the loss to the Dolphins.

— Zimmer, however, was pleased with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s play.

— Linebacker Chad Greenway stepped away from the team to be with his family after his father died on Friday.

— Here’s how the snaps were divided up against the Dolphins.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen will miss the season finale against the Vikings. That means Jay Cutler will start again.

— Michael Wright thinks starting Cutler again is a bad move.

— Bears defensive end Willie Young suffered a torn Achilles on Sunday.

— Wide receiver Brandon Marshall thinks Lions center Dominic Raiola is a dirty player after stomping on defensive tackle Ego Ferguson’s ankle.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings have an off day, but center John Sullivan will look to bring some Christmas cheer to those at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s hospital. Sullivan will host a Christmas party for young patients and their families this afternoon, providing gifts and pizza for every young patient in the hospital. Sullivan will be joined by current and former Vikings at the event.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Wide receiver Greg Jennings has caught four touchdowns in the last five games. Last season, Jennings had four touchdowns just all season rotating through quarterbacks Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. Jennings has six touchdowns this year.

Dreadful defense still upsets Zimmer

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated December 22nd at 5:37pm 286598581

Mike Zimmer still hadn’t cooled down much a day after the Vikings gave up 496 yards in total offense in a 37-35 loss to Miami.

The Vikings coach called the team’s defense “the worst we’ve played all year … maybe one of the worst I’ve ever seen” during his Monday press briefing at Winter Park.

The defense was coming off a strong performance in a 16-14 loss at Detroit on Dec. 14, but took a nasty turn.

“I know who they are,” Zimmer said of his defense, which gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns, “but I didn’t know who they were on Sunday.”

“There were times when guys lined up where I didn’t know they were going to line up.”

The Vikings defense was hit with 11 penalties in the game.

“We talk about toughness,” Zimmer said. “You have to be tough in the fourth quarter. You have to be smart in the fourth quarter. You have to walk away from a guy talking to you instead of head-butting him – that shows toughness, too.”

The last comment was a shot at linebacker Gerald Hodges, who got a key personal foul penalty in the game.

Zimmer went out of his way to praise rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – “he was excellent … that brings a lot of hope” – but in the end, he couldn’t hide his downright disgust at the defense.

“It bothers me when people don’t do what you ask them to do,” he said. “Mistakes bother me. Penalties bother me. Selfishness bothers me.

He paused.

“I know this team cares. They just didn’t perform.”

Earlier, defensive tackle Sharif Floyd was asked to define what the team did wrong against Miami.

“Defensively we went out and did our own thing instead of staying in the scheme,” he said. “I think we all took turns coming up with penalties and coming up with bad plays. We’ve got to stop what we’re doing, come back together as a unit and understand that we have to go back to our technique and our keys, and play defense.”

Greenway away from team; rookie Watts irks Zimmer

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated December 22nd at 2:58pm 286597741

Head coach Mike Zimmer just did his weekly Monday press conference, and he was still simmering after his defense fell apart in the second half of a 37-35 loss to the Dolphins. We will have more on that on the blog here shortly. I’m just popping in to provide some injury updates.

Outside linebacker Chad Greenway was excused from team activities today so he could go back to South Dakota to be with his family following the death of his father on Friday. Greenway played against the Dolphins but injured his right knee in the second quarter and did not return. Zimmer said Greenway will be back at Winter Park on Wednesday, but didn’t say if he would practice.

As for rookie Brandon Watts, who saw some action at outside linebacker after Greenway was lost, he has clearly irked Zimmer with his inability to either stay healthy or play through pain. Watts played just six defensive snaps against the Dolphins before exiting with a tweaked hamstring, his third hamstring injury of the season. Zimmer said that Watts needs to improve his “conditioning” and then smirked, so you are probably free to read between the lines on that one.

Finally, tight end Kyle Rudolph did not play against the Dolphins due to an ankle/knee injury. Asked if the team was just going to shut Rudolph down, Zimmer said that if Rudolph is healthy enough to play Sunday, then he will play. Rudolph has played just eight games this season.

Oh, one more thing: The Bears announced that quarterback Jimmy Clausen is out for Sunday’s game due to a concussion. That means that Jay Cutler’s time on the bench should soon be over.

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