@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get started here. Adrian Peterson's absence is an obvious factor in the Vikings' offensive struggles and might be the biggest single reason for why they've got the third-lowest scoring offense in the league. But it's far from the only factor. The Vikings' receivers haven't done a good enough job getting open. There's a rookie quarterback on the field who doesn't have a tight end (in Kyle Rudolph) that could help bail him out of trouble. And of course, a lot of this starts with an offensive line that hasn't protected Teddy Bridgewater effectively enough or opened enough holes for running backs. The difference with Peterson is, he's probably the one Vikings player who's good enough to overcome many of those problems by himself. There's no way the 2012 Vikings team -- with Christian Ponder at quarterback and a fairly unexceptional defense -- gets to the playoffs without Peterson carrying it there; the Vikings gave up at least 400 yards in all four games they won at the end of the season to reach the playoffs. We didn't get to see enough of Peterson to tell if he would have been as dynamic in this offense at age 29 as he had been in the past, but he'd certainly occupy enough attention to create more favorable matchups for everyone else. I'd put him at or near the top of a sizable list of reasons for the Vikings' offensive problems.
@GoesslingESPN: No, and here's why: Jerick McKinnon gained 57 of his 103 rushing yards after contact Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On his 29-yard run, 24 of the yards came after contact. You can still give the offensive line credit for opening a hole big enough for him to get the first five, but McKinnon also had runs in which he had to bounce off his first hit at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. We have to grade the offensive line's performance last Sunday on a curve, considering it was without its most consistent blocker (John Sullivan) and playing with a right guard (Mike Harris) who hadn't seen time there since youth football. But left tackle Matt Kalil and left guard Charlie Johnson -- playing in their third season together -- were again responsible for many of the lapses in pass protection, and right tackle Phil Loadholt got beat at key moments, as well. It's been too big of an issue to overlook, especially on a day when McKinnon had to do plenty to make things happen on his own.
@GoesslingESPN: I can't see that for a couple reasons. First, Kalil is 6-foot-7 and has such a high metabolism that he struggles to keep weight on during the season. He wouldn't be an ideal fit to take the pounding typical of a guard, and I'm not sure he plays with the nastiness you often need at that position. More importantly, I don't think Kalil is at a point where we should be talking about a salvage job yet. He was a Pro Bowl tackle as a rookie, and he handled impressive pass-rushers down the stretch of that season as the Vikings reached the playoffs. Has he been disappointing this year? Yes. Is he at a point where he's incapable of turning things around? I don't believe so. That said, it needs to happen soon; the Vikings will have to make a decision before next season whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Kalil's contract.
Would Vikes consider moving Kalil to LG next yr and grabbing LT in 1st round to salvage his worth? #VikingsMail— Brian Franzwa (@bfranzwa) October 22, 2014
@GoesslingESPN: If Greg Jennings and Chad Greenway are back next season, it's possible both of them would have had to restructure their contracts. Greenway will be a free agent after next season, and the Vikings would save $7.1 million by cutting him. There would be benefit to keeping him with a young linebacking group, but with Gerald Hodges pushing him, he might need to give back some money in exchange for guaranteed money in his base salary, like he did this year. Jennings is an interesting case; he hasn't produced numbers anywhere near the level of his contract, but he's played with four quarterbacks in 22 games with the Vikings. He also showed Sunday he can still be an effective receiver when he has someone who trusts himself enough to deliver the ball. He's still a good route runner, and he, too, would be able to lead a young group at his position. But he's getting paid like a No. 1 receiver, and he's due to count $11 million against the cap next season. The Vikings would save $9 million by cutting him after June 1, so he could also be asked to restructure before a season in which he'll turn 32.
#VikingsMail do you see 15 and 52 returning next year or use there money elsewhere on younger players— zach sween (@1Sween) October 22, 2014
That'll do it for this week, everyone. We'll be back with another edition next Saturday, and you can submit questions throughout the week in the meantime. Enjoy your Saturday!
Loehlein, an 8-year-old boy who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy -- a fatal and incurable degenerative muscle disease -- visited the Vikings' facility on a recent Saturday to take in the team's practice, meet players and get his Vikings helmet autographed.
He sent a thank-you note to Zimmer after his visit, which the coach read to reporters before the start of his news conference on Friday. It read:
Dear Mr. Zimmer,
Thank you for letting me watch your practice last Saturday. It was fun. The players were nice to me and signed my Viking helmet. My grandpa says to expect good luck for you because you have used up all your bad luck already.
After a start in which Zimmer has lost his top offensive player, his starting quarterback, the tight end and right guard the team just signed to contract extensions -- and saw the Vikings give up a touchdown with a second left on the clock in a game he coached with kidney stones -- it's tough to argue with that logic.
"I got into a little bit of an argument with Sugs, because after a few seconds, I was feeling fine sitting on the bench," Sullivan said. "On the way in, I suffered another spell of dizziness. It was not a catastrophic hit by any means. It was just, in order to go back in the game, I was going to have to lie to our doctors and to the neurologist, and I wasn't going to do that."
An important truth about concussions, and the messiness of managing them in real time, can be found in Sullivan's comments Friday: For all the advances the league has made in testing -- and for how stringent the treatment protocol has become -- there's still no black-and-white test to diagnose a concussion. That means there's still some element of the treatment process that relies on a player's cooperation. If Sullivan indeed passed his baseline test in the locker room and had been dishonest about lingering symptoms, he might have been able to go back in the game. It's especially in cases like these, where the effects of a concussion might not be as immediately apparent, that a player's honesty is integral to the process.
"It's tough, because you don't want to tell a guy how to live their life, but we have a responsibility to be honest about what we're going through with those hits," Sullivan said. "It's difficult to do any studies if guys aren't being truthful about what they're going through. You feel like you have a duty to yourself, and your family, to tell the truth. At the same time, even if you are suffering symptoms, you feel like you're letting your teammates down, because you're not out there. I felt horrible that I wasn't able to play the rest of the game, but I had to be honest."
Sullivan said he passed the ImPACT test Tuesday and was able to exercise without symptoms. He lifted weights and did on-field work Wednesday, and participated in noncontact drills Thursday. As he talked to reporters Friday afternoon, he said he felt "totally normal."
The next concussion could be right around the corner, as it could be for any player, and Sullivan admitted it's possible he's had more. But, he added, "I feel like my future isn't in doubt.
"It's not so much about the number, specifically. If you were to have five concussions where your symptoms subsided in a matter of days, and you don't even miss a game, is that as serious as one concussion that keeps you out for six months?" Sullivan said. "The other thing is, you can talk about the number, but if I had lied my way back onto the field, I'd still be at four. What point is there in getting caught up in the specific number? It just means I was honest five times."
Robinson did not practice on Friday, indicating his availability for Sunday is in some doubt. The cornerback said after practice, however, that he's feeling better after rolling his ankle on Thursday, and he sounded optimistic he could still play Sunday.
Asked about Robinson's availability for Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer said, "I don't know. We'll find out a little bit more tomorrow."
If Robinson were unable to play, rookie Jabari Price would likely be next in line.
With John Sullivan ready to return from a concussion this week, the Vikings won't need Joe Berger to start at center on Sunday, but it seems possible Berger could find his way into the lineup at right guard instead. He saw some first-team snaps at the spot this week, while Vlad Ducasse worked his way back from a knee injury. Berger and Zimmer were coy about the plan for the offensive line, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Berger in the lineup on Sunday.
"I may or may not know that," Berger said when asked whether he has been told if he'll start on Sunday. "If you guys don't know that, I'm going to let the coach tell you."
“From the time he was there we always knew he was going to be a superstar in the making," David said. “Great kid. Quiet, humble and a hard worker. I knew him quite a bit.
“I saw him my senior year when I was leaving out and got a chance to watch the spring game. All the old guys came back and we knew he was going to be the next starter at our high school."
David said he’s been impressed with the film he’s seen of Bridgewater this year.
“He’s trying to manage the game, trying to be careful with the football," David said. “He’s making his right reads. He’s just still trying to fit in. He’s doing good so far."
But David and his teammates will be looking to make Bridgewater look bad on Sunday. The defense has been taking a lot of criticism and is ranked last in the league. David, a team captain, said it’s time for the Bucs to get things right on defense.
“We’ve got to fix what we need to fix and that number will go down," David said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of skill. It’s about putting it all together and that’s what we’re trying to do coming off the bye week."
That's exactly what Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater needs to get on track, and as the rookie plays in front of a number of family members in his home state, he should have a good opportunity to replicate the success he had in his first NFL start, which also came against a forgiving defense in the Atlanta Falcons.
Between the Buccaneers' own troubles developing a passing game (their 5.95-yard average per dropback is 26th in the league, five spots better than the Vikings' average) and their porous defense, the Vikings will find a forgiving atmosphere to notch their third win of the year in their final road game before their bye week.
Prediction: Vikings 28, Buccaneers 17
This season, though, Sherels has made a couple decisions to fair-catch punts that would have likely rolled into the end zone for a touchback, including one in Buffalo last Sunday where he called for a fair catch and fielded the ball at the Vikings' 6, earning him a sideline conversation with an irate Priefer.
"It was a windy day; they’re kicking with the wind," Priefer said. "It wasn’t a plus-50 situation (where the Bills are punting in Vikings territory). He was actually aligned up at the 12-yard line. We had them, I think, at 50 yards because their punter was hitting the ball really well. When he went back to catch it, he didn’t realize where he was and you could see it on tape; he kind of hesitated about the 8-(yard line), which is his rule, and then at the last second it drifted a couple more yards.
"In hindsight, you hope he doesn’t fair-catch that -- that he grabs it and goes, because I think he had some room. The second point would be, let it go in the end zone, because the wind was blowing pretty good. It was probably, you can classify that as a poor decision and hopefully won’t make those going forward."
Priefer said he doesn't want to see Sherels back up to field punts that deep in his own territory, especially when he has opportunities to block a gunner and hinder a team's ability to down the ball before it goes into the end zone. "He’s actually had one of those, I think, against Atlanta (on Sept. 28), where he did a really nice job," Priefer said. "No fair catch, bluffed the catch, slowed down the gunner a little bit and gave him a little nudge and knocked him off. The ball hit at the 2 and went in the end zone for a touchback. That was a big play for us. It was obviously 18 or 20 yards of field position."
Sherels has been accused of being too cautious with punts at times over the years, but as Priefer said, Sherels is more aggressive with deciding to return punts than he was in his first years as a returner. As solid as he's been at fielding punts and staying out of trouble, he's understandably earned some leeway when he makes occasional mistakes.
" I think Marcus has done a really nice job, or he wouldn’t still be here as our punt returner for a fourth straight year," Priefer said. "He’s a quality young man, he’s going to work hard, he’s going to do everything we ask him to do."
The charge that the Tampa 2 defense is obsolete, or too predictable, or too easy to solve, is one that Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has heard since he was running the same system as the Vikings' defensive coordinator and head coach. It's not one that Mike Zimmer, his successor in Minnesota, is prepared to levy this week.
Many Vikings fans -- not to mention some Vikings players -- were happy to see Zimmer bring in a more aggressive style of defense when he replaced Frazier, but the Vikings play some Cover 2 shells, as do most teams in the league. So why did Zimmer go away from using the scheme as his primary defense?
"It's usually just personnel," Zimmer said. "But we still do some of it. We play with a little bit different technique. The things we run have different names for them, but a lot of the blitzes are still the same. I think everything is evolving all the time in the NFL, and things come back. It's very cyclical. I mean, it used to be the wishbone; now it's the zone read. Everything just kind of evolves. ... They've adjusted. They're not doing the same thing every play, and neither are we. Coaches find different ways to attack different things. But I don't think the defense is obsolete or anything like that."
In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
- We took a look at whether there's any reason to be concerned that facing so much pressure will 'ruin' Teddy Bridgewater. The answer? Probably not; there have been a number of top-end quarterbacks who were pressured consistently as rookies.
- Frazier offered support for Adrian Peterson, as well as former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, saying he wished both of his former players "nothing but the best."
- ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas and I previewed Sunday's matchup.
- The Vikings should get John Sullivan back Sunday after the center cleared the NFL's concussion protocol.
- Defensive tackle Tom Johnson will make a pre-trial appearance in court Dec. 9 after pleading not guilty to trespassing and disorderly conduct charges.
- Everson Griffen is delivering on the new contract the Vikings gave him in March, writes Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
- The Buccaneers' spring spending spree hasn't paid off yet, Mark Craig of the Star Tribune says.
- The Vikings' defense, which was the team's weakest unit last season, has become the strength of the team, according to Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
- Jarius Wright has found a rhythm with Bridgewater, John Holler of Viking Update writes.
Guard Vlad Ducasse also returned to practice in full after injuring his knee last Sunday in Buffalo. Zimmer, however, would not say for certain whether the Vikings would use the same five offensive linemen against the Buccaneers.
"Everything's a little in flux with the injuries, so we'll see," Zimmer said.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) returned to practice on a limited basis, and defensive end Corey Wootton was a full participant after the lower-back injury that kept him out of Sunday's game also limited him Wednesday. Safety Antone Exum missed practice with an ankle injury, however, and cornerback Josh Robinson left practice early after injuring his ankle in individual drills. Zimmer said he wasn't sure how the injury would affect Robinson's status for Sunday.
"He wasn't going very fast when he did it," Zimmer said.
The Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback has been sacked 15 times in just four games, or on 11 percent of his dropbacks.
In other words, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater is on pace to be the most frequently-sacked rookie quarterback in the league since the Dallas Cowboys' Chad Hutchinson in 2002. He's been pressured on 27.9 percent of his dropbacks, and he's thrown just one touchdown pass against five interceptions so far.
It's true that the list of the most-sacked rookie quarterbacks in history (usually passers playing for bad teams behind leaky offensive lines) includes a number of busts: Carr tops the list at 76, followed by Tim Couch at 56, Jake Plummer at 52, Dieter Brock at 51, Tony Banks at 48 and Rick Mirer at 47. But then we come to names like Warren Moon and Jim Kelly (albeit after time in the CFL and USFL, respectively), and Andrew Luck, who was taken down 41 times as a rookie and pressured on 28.8 percent of his dropbacks while playing for a team that threw the ball 627 times. Phil Simms took 39 sacks as a rookie. Russell Wilson was sacked 33 times, Joe Flacco 32 and Ben Roethlisberger 30.
It'd be one thing to worry if Bridgewater was showing signs of letting the rush affect him, either by taking off early or hurrying throws to avoid sacks. We've seen him rush throws on a couple occasions, but not to the point where I'd attribute it to something more deep-seeded than a rookie still figuring out his timing in the NFL. He rebounded from two interceptions on Sunday, making some of his best throws when he stood in the pocket and fired decisively to a receiver, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner sounded pleased on Thursday with how composed Bridgewater has remained in the face of all the pressure.
"He's got good sense in the pocket. He's getting better at getting the ball out," Turner said. "He threw the ball away a couple times Sunday when there was nowhere to throw it, where against Detroit [on] those plays he took sacks. We're working on getting him a lot quicker, we're working on design to help get the ball out quick, we're working on protection so we don't have to have the conversation about how he handles it."
If the Vikings keep giving up pressure to the point where Bridgewater's sack totals are pushing into the 50s, then we might have something to worry about long-term. But right now, the issue seems to be affecting the Vikings' ability to win in the present more than it's stunting Bridgewater's growth. The amount of pressure the Vikings have allowed is alarming, especially from an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the team's strengths. But the Vikings were drawn to Bridgewater in part because of how masterfully he handled pressure in college, and any sense of a maladjustment because of what he's faced as a rookie probably is premature.
Johnson was arrested on Oct. 5 outside a Minneapolis steakhouse after he allegedly refused to leave when the restaurant was closing. Police used pepper spray on Johnson inside the restaurant, according to a police report, and used a stun gun to subdue him before arresting him outside. His agent, Bardia Ghahremani, released a statement after Johnson's arrest saying the defensive tackle's behavior did not merit the level of force police used on him, and his attorney, David Valentini, said this month that Johnson was not in the wrong for taking a picture of the officer who sprayed him.
The defensive tackle has been a surprising pickup for the Vikings this season, posting four sacks while primarily being used as a pass-rusher in the team's nickel package.
The Vikings traded the talented yet mercurial Harvin to Seattle in March 2013 after a season in which he screamed at Frazier on the sideline in November and reportedly had an altercation with the coach before the Vikings put him on injured reserve with a sprained ankle during the middle of their playoff push.
Peterson, on the other hand, was the Vikings' most vocal player in support of Frazier when the coach's job was on the line last December; Peterson said after the Vikings' final two games of the season that he wanted Frazier back, at one point adding he wanted to play for the coach for the rest of his career and saying he planned to share his thoughts with ownership. After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, Peterson said there was a time where "I wasn't happy. I wasn't feeling good about being in Minnesota at the end of last season."
The circumstances for both players, of course, have changed significantly in recent weeks. Peterson is awaiting a Dec. 1 trial after pleading not guilty to child abuse charges, and Harvin is preparing for his first game with the New York Jets after the Seahawks traded him last week.