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 coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t with the team at practice Friday because he’s having a “minor procedure” done, according to Bob Hagan, Vikings executive director of public relations.
Zimmer will return to the team tomorrow and will coach Sunday when it plays at Buffalo, Hagan said.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Zimmer was at Winter Park on Friday morning, but “was uncomfortable and wasn’t doing real good.” Turner did not say what Zimmer’s malady was, but said he had a “procedure” and would return on Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, we just finished the portion of practice that’s open to reporters. Defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back), linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (hernia surgery) were not practicing. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (elbow), who sat out Thursday’s practice, was back practicing. Also practicing for the third straight day is linebacker Chad Greenway, who missed the past three games because of a broken wrist and broken ribs.
For the Vikings Week 7 road trip to Buffalo, we reached out to Jay Skurski, who covers the Bills for The Buffalo News, for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Skurski about the game.
1. Has the offense been more efficient under quarterback Kyle Orton the last two weeks?
JS: The offense has averaged about a half yard more per play under Orton (5.1) than it did in Manuel’s two straight losses (4.55), so it’s been better, but not by a great deal. Orton, though, does have a significantly better completion percentage (66.7) and yards per attempt (7.49) than Manuel did (58.0 and 6.4, respectively), so the Bills are throwing the ball better since the quarterback change. The switch did sacrifice mobility at the position. Orton has been sacked seven times in two games, while Manuel was sacked just six times in four starts.
2. Why have the Bills struggled to run the ball with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson?
JS: You can divide that answer into thirds among the running backs themselves, the offensive line and the coaching staff and be pretty close to having the right answer. Spiller in particular has a bad habit of kicking runs outside when he should just take what’s in front of him. The offensive line, though, hasn’t helped either running back. Starting right guard Erik Pears has the lowest grade at his position in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and rookie left guard Cyril Richardson is only four spots ahead. That has made running up the middle a big challenge. The coaching staff also needs to do a better job of getting the ball in Spiller’s hands in space, whether that be in the screen game or by calling more sweeps or runs of that nature.
3. What has made the Bills defensive line so good in pass rush situations?
JS: Start with the fact they’re just really good. Three of the Bills’ defensive linemen — Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams — made the Pro Bowl last season. The one who didn’t, Jerry Hughes, had 10 sacks. Mario Williams is a freak, plain and simple. There are very few players in the history of the game who have his combination of size, strength and speed. Marcell Dareus has developed into a do-it-all defensive tackle, adept at clogging running lanes and rushing the passer. Kyle Williams remains an excellent interior pass rusher, even though he’s dealing with a knee injury. Hughes has excellent speed off the edge and has come along as a run defender.
4. How have rookies Sammy Watkins and Preston Brown looked so far?
JS: Watkins has been up and down. He was the best player on the field in a Week Two win against Miami, and had a huge catch to set up a game-winning field goal against Detroit in Week Four. But the Bills haven’t looked his way often enough, including last Sunday when he wasn’t targeted in the first half at all against Darrelle Revis and the New England Patriots. He was slowed early in the season by bruised ribs, but is 100 percent now. I’d expect the Bills to look his way early Sunday. Brown has been a valuable defender specifically because of his versatility. He can play any of the three linebacker positions for the team, and has done so through the first six weeks. He leads the team with 45 tackles and has a fumble recovery. He’s also taken the most defensive snaps of any defensive player on the team.
5. What do the Bills need to do to win this game?
JS: Establishing the run game — which last year was the strength of the team — will be a top priority. The Vikings’ run defense numbers suggest that should be possible. On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ defensive line is surely licking its chops after Minnesota gave up eight sacks to Detroit a week ago. If the Bills can get the Vikings into difficult down-and-distance situations and bring the crowd to its feet, they should be able to harass a rookie quarterback making his first start on the road. If that happens, it could lead to turnovers — an area the Bills have had a good differential in this season.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— The Vikings trust that coordinator Norv Turner will turn their offense around.
— Head coach Mike Zimmer wants OLB Chad Greenway to be honest about his injury.
— After a whirlwind start to his career, RB Jerick McKinnon is settling in as a starter.
— CB Xavier Rhodes and Bills WR Sammy Watkins will renew their rivalry Sunday.
— RB Adrian Peterson’s lawyer wants to keep the current judge for his trial.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Eric Sugarman (@EricSugarATC) October 16, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Bills WR Mike Williams said his agent was doing his job by requesting a trade.
— Bills DT Marcell Dareus returned to practice after handling a personal matter.
— RB Bryce Brown was surprised that the Bills made him a healthy scratch.
— Head coach Doug Marrone concedes that the Bills have had issues at guard.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
Practice is at 10:50 a.m. Zimmer will chat with us at 12:30 p.m. and the locker room is open.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
What a difference a year — and a Zimmer — makes. Through six games this season, the Vikings rank eighth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 332 yards per game. That’s a little more than 65 yards fewer per game than last season, when they were 31st in the league at 397.5 yards allowed per game. They are allowing 6.2 points per game fewer than they were a season ago, too.
Chad Greenway had full participation in practice for a second straight day, another sign that the outside linebacker will play against the Bills. But before head coach Mike Zimmer gives Greenway the green light, he wants to make sure Greenway is honest about his ability to play through pain.
“Yesterday we were in pads and he felt pretty good. We’ve done another test to see where he’s at hitting-wise and he looks pretty good, so I’m going to have to trust him with what he says,” he said.
Zimmer acknowledged there is concern about Greenway reinjuring the ribs he broke in Week 2.
As for whether Greenway will start, Zimmer only said, “My thought is that if he can play, he can play.”
Defensive end Corey Wootton (lower back), outside linebackers Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and Michael Mauti (illness), and tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) did not practice today.
Defensive tackle Sharif Floyd, who practiced some yesterday, also sat out today with his ankle injury, though Zimmer didn’t seem to be too worried about his playing status for Sunday’s game.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph (ankle) and cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) were listed as limited.
In addition to Greenway, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip), safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) were listed as full participants in practice for a second straight day.
Two months ago, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon was looking up at Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata on the depth chart. Sure, the team had plans for him as a pass-catcher in certain packages. But mostly the thought was that they would ease the electric third-round runner into the offense.
Things quickly changed when the Vikings lost Peterson, the centerpiece of their offensive plans, when his legal issues came to light after the opener. Asiata became the starter with Peterson out and played most of the snaps. But suddenly, McKinnon had to take on a larger role than expected, too.
A few weeks later, McKinnon rushed for 135 yards, the highest total for a Vikings back this season, in a Week 4 win over the Falcons and Asiata struggled the following week in the loss to the Packers.
So the Vikings gave McKinnon the start against the Lions. And while head coach Mike Zimmer said yesterday that he wants Asiata to remain involved in the running game, it looks as if McKinnon, who has quickly climbed atop the depth chart, will be given an chance to settle in as the starter.
“[It has been] a whirlwind,” McKinnon said after today’s morning walkthrough. “Everything happened so fast. I think I prepare myself to be ready for whatever happens. There has definitely been a lot thrown my way, just from a rookie standpoint, going through a whole bunch of different things. But I think it’s helped me in my progression to become a better NFL running back.”
McKinnon rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries against a formidable Lions defensive front in his first start and caught a team-high six passes for 42 yards. His 5.0 yards-per-carry average is inflated by his performance against the Falcons, but McKinnon has brought the threat of explosive plays back to the backfield, something that has been lacking since Peterson was shut down indefinitely.
Asked to assess his play of late, McKinnon said he feels he is becoming a more consistent player.
“I’ve had some mistakes here and there, some mishaps here and there,” McKinnon said. “But for the most part I think I’ve been consistent. I think I’ve showed them that I come to get better in practice every day in and out, so I’m just trying to build upon those things as I go along and find my way.”
McKinnon must handle the extra responsibilities that come with being the lead back, including being asked to do more pass protecting. He didn’t expect it to happen this fast, but he’s eager to do it all.
“I think I’ve accepted the challenge and stepped up to the plate when my number’s called,” he said.
|San Diego||10/23/14 7:25 PM|
|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|
|Arkansas State||10/21/14 7:00 PM|
|Connecticut||10/23/14 6:00 PM|
|(18) East Carolina|
|Miami-Florida||10/23/14 7:00 PM|
|So Florida||10/24/14 6:00 PM|
|Troy||10/24/14 6:30 PM|
|BYU||10/24/14 8:00 PM|
|(6) Oregon||10/24/14 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|
|Montreal||10/24/14 5:30 PM|
|Saskatchewan||10/24/14 8:30 PM|
|Hamilton||10/25/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||10/25/14 6:00 PM|