NFC North: Minnesota Vikings
The Carolina Panthers center talks with his younger brother after every game. He's heard the frustration in Matt Kalil's voice about the way he's played this year and the criticism he's received. So when he turns on the Vikings video, Ryan Kalil isn't just checking in on his brother; he's trying to help him find a solution.
"I've watched him do a lot of good things," Ryan Kalil said. "We've played a lot of same opponents that they play in the division this year, so we've watched a lot of Vikings film this year. And he's gotten highlighted a bunch: 'We've got to do this. Look at this left tackle. We've got to do this.' And that's exciting. I'm proud to be able to see that and be a part of that and be associated with him. So he does a lot of good things.
"I think late in the game, being down, a lot of passing situations, it's hard. And it's not ever one thing that happens. Not making excuses for him; at the end of the day that's your job. You have to block, but I think the biggest thing I'll say about Matt is he works hard. I know he's very talented. I know the knee thing does bother him, and I think he'll be fine. I think he's going to be a good player for a long time."
Matt Kalil had said he was on the phone with his father Frank during the exchange with the heckler; Ryan Kalil offered his father's perspective on it on Wednesday before sharing some humorous advice about how he'd have handled the situation.
" I asked my dad if he heard what happened," Ryan Kalil said. "He said, 'Yeah, I heard the whole thing.' He said, 'It was a really ugly deal.' The guy called him over, said he was a big fan, asked for his autograph. He went over there and then he started saying some pretty ugly stuff to him. So I think my brother just kind of reacted. It's probably my fault for picking on him when he was little. Flipping his hat, I think that was the go-to move for me.
"I was a little disappointed. I actually would have liked him to go with the, 'You spilled something on your shirt' and then throw the finger up and hit him in the chin. I think that would have been a funnier move."
Ryan Kalil said his entire family will be in Minnesota this weekend for the game, and if anything, he hopes the opportunity for Matt Kalil to see his nieces and nephew will provide a pick-me-up.
The big brother, still looking out for the younger one, believes he'll be fine in the end.
"The thing that hurts them is just everybody telling him he's letting the team down, and that's not what he wants to hear," Ryan Kalil said. "I don't think he's the problem with Minnesota not having a better record. I don't. I think there's a lot of different things that go into a season not being as good as you want it to go, and we're dealing with the same kind of stuff here. I don't think it's one person. But that's easy coming from me. It's one thing when you're hearing it every day. And even if you turn off the Twitter and you don't read the articles, you know what the conversation is, just based off the questions you're being asked daily, you know? It's frustrating. I think he's strong, though. I don't think he's gone in the tank. I don't think anything like that. I think he'll be fine. I think it's just learning experience."
"(He and I) talked about that, and I talked to the training staff and things like that," Loadholt said. "I've got a pretty good feel of what to expect over the next few months. I look forward to attacking that the same way I attack playing the game."
Fusco faced about a four-month rehab process when he was injured in September, and if the prognosis is the same for Loadholt, he might be able to resume some activity during the Vikings' offseason workouts next spring. In the meantime, he said, he'll continue to attend meetings and offer whatever help he can to Mike Harris and Webb.
"Mike's had some experience in this league," Loadholt said. "He's started games before. The main thing for him is just to make sure he's preparing himself mentally. If Mike has his mind right, he'll be ready to go."
To make room for Webb, the Vikings put right tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve; Loadholt will have surgery on Friday on his torn pectoral muscle and will miss the rest of the season.
Webb started for the Vikings last Nov. 7 in a win over the Washington Redskins, after Loadholt had sustained a concussion four days earlier against Dallas. Coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday that Mike Harris would "probably" take over for Loadholt at right tackle, but even if Webb doesn't start, the Vikings could use additional depth at tackle.
J'Marcus Webb, who spent last season with the team and started one game last November while Loadholt was out with a concussion, tweeted on Tuesday evening he had signed with the Vikings. ESPN's Field Yates reported on Tuesday afternoon the Vikings had worked out Webb and former Seattle Seahawks tackle Eric Winston.
Loadholt will have surgery on Friday for a torn pectoral muscle and miss the rest of the season. Webb's return would give the Vikings a veteran option at right tackle. Mike Harris finished the team's game against the Green Bay Packers after Loadholt was injured, and Zimmer said on Monday that Harris would "probably" start at right tackle, but the Vikings could certainly use depth and competition at the position.
The team had not announced the move as of Tuesday night. It would need a clear a space for Webb on the roster, which could be accomplished by moving Loadholt to injured reserve.
Bridgewater still had a poor day throwing downfield -- he was just 4-for-12 on passes that traveled at least 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- but on the Johnson TD, he benefited from a few things he hasn't often had this season: a clean pocket and a receiver who could quickly beat press coverage.
Bridgewater briefly looked to his left to hold safety Morgan Burnett and threw a strike for Johnson at the top of his drop. On the occasions where things work that well around him, throwing downfield shouldn't be difficult for Bridgewater at all.
"He wasn't as accurate in this ballgame as he normally is," Zimmer said. "I think he might've been getting under and dropping the ball down a little bit too much and the ball was sailing on him. But he needs to be more accurate as well."
Bridgewater has typically been at his best in two-minute drill situations toward the end of games, when he's had a chance to run plays quickly and can avoid over-analyzing things while reading his progressions. The Vikings have run some no-huddle series this season, and could go to it more often to get Bridgewater in the same kind of rhythm, Zimmer said. He added Sunday probably wouldn't have been the time to do it, though.
"What I don't want to do is go no-huddle against Aaron Rodgers and get three incomplete passes and [only] 13 seconds run off the clock," Zimmer said. "Each game is different and I think tempo that we're changing up throughout different times of the game helps him as well. It doesn't necessarily have to be completely no-huddle, but I think the tempo change has helped him, yes."
Munnerlyn said Panthers' cornerback Josh Norman's comments to the Charlotte Observer -- about Munnerlyn not being willing to help him when the two played together in Carolina -- a "slap in the face," adding he's always willing to give advice to younger teammates looking for guidance.
Norman and Munnerlyn both started for the Panthers in 2012, but Norman struggled in 2013, as Munnerlyn started all 16 games for a Panthers team that went 13-3. Norman said Munnerlyn and other veterans went too far in making him and the other rookies pick up the tab for an expensive dinner during their first season -- which is considered tradition on many teams -- and added he thought the 5-foot-9 Munnerlyn had "little man syndrome."
Said Munnerlyn on Monday: "It's probably deeper than what he's saying. I really don't know what it is. I'm just going to go out there and play football. I don't have to play against him; he don't have to play against me. He's got to worry about our offense; I've got to worry about their offense. I don't know where it came from, and I'm sure I won't say too much to him about it."
Munnerlyn said he is still close to a number of former Panthers teammates, adding he talks to linebacker Thomas Davis almost every day.
"It was difficult [to leave]," Munnerlyn said. "I was there five years, and that's the organization that gave me a chance to take my game to the next level. They came in the seventh round and drafted little old Captain Munnerlyn, and gave me a chance to go out there and play. I'm very thankful to that organization, for allowing me to take that opportunity. But hey, I'm a Minnesota Viking now; they took my career to the next level. I'm ready to compete and go out there and play."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Teddy Bridgewater's first NFC North game was supposed to come against the Green Bay Packers in prime time at Lambeau Field four days after he threw for 317 yards in his first NFL start. The fact the rookie missed that game with a sprained ankle, evidently, was still on his mind on Sunday, when a quarterback usually lauded for his composure came out firing rockets.
On a day when their defense held the league's hottest offense to 24 points and their cornerbacks won plaudits from Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings will have to wonder if they could have secured their first NFC North win of the year had Bridgewater been more accurate. In the first two quarters, he overshot Charles Johnson deep, threw too high for Jarius Wright, had an interception overturned by a holding penalty, fired a 9-yard pass that required a leaping grab from Greg Jennings, floated an interception that Micah Hyde said "felt like it was in the air for five seconds" and threw another high pass that Tramon Williams nearly intercepted. In the third, he missed Johnson on a deep throw after Sam Shields fell down, costing the Vikings a chance at a touchdown before Blair Walsh's field goal.
Bridgewater settled down in the fourth quarter, playing his best as he usually does when the Vikings tried to rally late. He hit eight of his 10 throws in the fourth quarter, for 69 yards and a touchdown, as the Vikings pulled within three of Green Bay. But the efficient, assured quarterbacking Bridgewater did at the end of the game made it easy to wonder why he couldn't play that way earlier.
"I didn't think he was as accurate as he normally is early in the ballgame," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a couple of high throws, a couple of missed throws. He seemed to settle down in the second half -- now, he got hit a bunch of times; we didn't protect him nearly well enough. He continued to keep drives alive in the second half, so those were all good things. We have to start, he needs to play better in the first half."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bridgewater was off target on seven of his 37 passes on Sunday, which was tied for the third-most off-target throws he has had in a game this season. He generally hasn't been among the league's wildest quarterbacks this season -- he's 15th in the league in terms of the most off-target throws per game -- but what sticks out is how many of his struggles have come early in games. On Sunday, six of his seven off-target throws came in the first half, and for the season, Bridgewater has the league's fifth-lowest QBR through two quarters.
"One of the things I told him is, 'You can't win a game by yourself; you can't lose a game by yourself,'" Jennings said. "When you have a guy that you know is trying to do everything the right way, you're willing to be patient. There's mistakes that I will make. There's mistakes he's going to make. But at the end of the day, I can't focus on the mistakes. We have to learn how to be together, and make sure we're doing things the right way to give our team a chance to win."
Bridgewater has criticized himself for overthinking things on a number of occasions this season, and his rough start to Sunday's game seemed to be because he was too fired up. It's another thing he's working through as a rookie quarterback, but on Sunday, it cost him a chance for a better debut against the Vikings' biggest rival.
Tate active but absent in debut: Running back Ben Tate was active for his first game in a Vikings uniform but was one of two players on the Vikings' active roster not to see the field on Sunday (Christian Ponder was the other). Joe Banyard got his first NFL carries instead, running five times for 26 yards in Matt Asiata's absence. "I think Banyard had the hot hand at the time," coach Mike Zimmer said.
Loadholt to have MRI: Right tackle Phil Loadholt will have an MRI on his shoulder after getting injured in the fourth quarter, Zimmer said. Mike Harris took over for Loadholt, who didn't want to discuss his injury after the game.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:
What it means: The Vikings can effectively put away any flickering hopes of a late hot streak to make a playoff run. They dropped to 4-7 with the loss, which was their fourth in as many division games this season, on a day when their defense did well to contain Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings can point to familiar culprits in the loss -- they were flagged seven times for 77 yards (with three penalties for 35 yards on Matt Kalil), and they converted just 5 of 13 third-down attempts.
Bridgewater misfiring: Teddy Bridgewater was at his best late in the game, when the Vikings had to cover 79 yards in 13 plays to get within a field goal, but he missed too many throws early in the game, firing too high for Jarius Wright, overthrowing Charles Johnson deep and tossing an interception that was overturned when Micah Hyde was flagged for illegal contact. Through three quarters, Bridgewater had connected on just 13 of his 27 passes for 141 yards, before posting 69 on the Vikings' final TD drive.
Lacy burns Vikings again: Eddie Lacy's only 100-yard game of the season before Sunday came on Oct. 2, when he ran for 103 yards on 13 carries in the Packers' win over the Vikings at Lambeau Field. It was a more workmanlike day for Lacy this time -- he carried more than 20 times for the first time this season, and scored a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) before helping the Packers salt away the victory. He finished with 25 carries for 125 yards, and in four games against the Vikings, he has six TDs.
Game ball: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a major factor in the Vikings' ability to slow down Rodgers; he spent much of the day lined up on Jordy Nelson, and the Packers weren't able to hit the deep shots to Nelson they've used so often this season. Nelson's longest catch of the day was 14 yards as Rhodes' physical play helped throw off his timing with Rodgers.
What's next: The Vikings (4-7) continue their three-game homestand next Sunday at noon against the Carolina Panthers.
Floyd, who didn't practice Thursday or Friday after banging knees with another player during practice, is among the Vikings' inactives for Sunday's game. Rookie Shamar Stephen will start in his place at defensive tackle, though the Vikings are likely to use a rotation of Stephen, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph. Floyd, however, has played some of his best football in recent weeks, and his absence will likely be felt as the Vikings try to slow down Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for 105 yards when the teams last met Oct. 2.
Running back Ben Tate will be active for the Vikings after the team claimed him off waivers last week; Tate could take part of Matt Asiata's role in goal-line and passing situations, with Asiata out with a concussion. Wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright are also active after being listed as questionable with rib and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. We'll get right into it with the 'A' topic: Peterson's future in Minnesota. My sense of it has been that Peterson will play somewhere else next year -- I think there's a feeling in some corners of the organization (and possibly in Peterson's mind) that it's time to move on -- but that said, here are the reasons the Vikings could decide to bring Peterson back: They'd be getting a running back who's fresh (if his suspension is upheld, he'll have been tackled a total of 21 times this year), and they know better than anybody what Peterson can do when he's out to prove something (see: 2012). Coaches and players support him, and if emotions cool over time, Peterson could return to be a force both on and off the field. The hangup in all that, though, could be his contract. I can't see the Vikings paying a 30-year-old running back $13 million in 2015, and if Peterson is going to play for less money, he might be more inclined to do it elsewhere. We'll see, though. It'll unquestionably be the top storyline of the offseason.
Will the Vikings Deploy more Double A gap pressure on Sunday, if so where does that expose the defense? #VikingsMail— Michael Tarp (@MikeyTarp) November 20, 2014
@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings didn't blitz Aaron Rodgers much the last time they faced him, and there's an inherent danger in bringing extra pressure after him; Rodgers has the fifth-best QBR in the league against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and while the Vikings' double-A gap blitz works well in part because it doesn't expose major holes in coverage, Rodgers could find room to work on quick throws over the middle. Even if the Vikings don't use it much on Sunday, though, we'll undoubtedly see the look; they like to put Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on either side of the center, even though they'll often drop one or both players into coverage and rarely send more than five rushers. It can confuse protection schemes, and open up space for edge rushers if teams adjust their protection to block down on inside rushers.
@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings contend it can; they feel like Teddy Bridgewater throws the deep ball well enough to succeed in the NFL, and they say he hits downfield throws in practice. There are a few things that need to be fixed, though. First, the Vikings need to protect Bridgewater better; he won't have time to work downfield if he's evading pass-rushers within a couple seconds. They also need their receivers to do a better job of gaining separation, and lastly, Bridgewater's downfield accuracy needs to improve. He's still learning to trust himself on deep throws, and there have been too many times where he's not giving himself a split-second to set his feet and put the ball where it needs to be. The Vikings, though, wouldn't have put Bridgewater in Norv Turner's offense if they didn't think he could consistently hit throws of 15 yards or longer, and they're counting on him figuring it out in time.
@GoesslingESPN: I'll close by answering these two together, since they hit similar themes. As for the position upgrade, the obvious answer is that better play from the quarterback and left tackle spots would help the Vikings the most. But I don't think that's what you're getting at, since the Vikings plan to solve those problems with development (in Bridgewater's case) or a return to a previous level of play (in Matt Kalil's case). In terms of where the Vikings could realistically upgrade their personnel to help the roster, I'd probably say safety or left guard. If the Vikings had a really good safety next to Harrison Smith, they could be even more flexible on defense, and could conceivably stay in base packages more often. That's a big part of what helped turn Seattle's defense into a dominant unit, and the Vikings would like to be able to do that with their safeties, as well. And as much criticism as Kalil has taken this year, Charlie Johnson has been a major concern in pass protection, as well. David Yankey isn't strong enough yet to play in the NFL, but he could push Johnson for time next year.
As for the position that will look the most different on defense next year, I'd also suggest linebacker; the Vikings need to find a long-term answer in the middle, and Chad Greenway's future is in some doubt. Greenway's had a rebound year this season, in my opinion, but he'll be 32 next year and is due to count $8.8 million against the cap. He's certainly a candidate for another contract restructuring, but the Vikings might be inclined to see if Gerald Hodges is the future answer at weakside linebacker. My guess is Greenway plays one more season in Minnesota on a reduced deal, but even if he's back, the linebacker group could have a different look.
That'll do it for this week. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. Enjoy your Saturday, and we'll talk to you from TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Of the four, Floyd would seem like the biggest unknown. The defensive tackle did not practice Friday after banging knees with another player during Wednesday's practice. He said a MRI showed no damage to his knee, but the fact he did not participate on Thursday or Friday -- and had crutches next to his locker both of those days -- leaves his status in some doubt.
"It's in Coach [Mike Zimmer]'s hands," Floyd said. "I'll go as he goes."
Kalil got a day off on Friday, with what Zimmer called a "minor aggravation" to his knee. Zimmer said Kalil has been dealing with the issue for a while, and gave him a day to rest it on Friday. The left tackle said he's planning to play Sunday.
Jennings and Wright also seem likely to play; Jennings hurt his ribs on Sunday and Wright strained his hamstring, but both receivers practiced in full on Sunday.
Running back Matt Asiata, however, won't play on Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week. That could mean a larger role for Ben Tate, whom the Vikings claimed off waivers from Cleveland on Wednesday.
"He's catching on quick," Zimmer said. "He's got some explosiveness hitting the hole. Obviously he's a big-bodied guy. He's done a good job in protection so far, so we'll see how it goes."
"Your offense has got to play just as well as their offense. Your defense has to play as well as their defense," Gray said. "And then, you can't turn the ball over. And hopefully you get some turnovers, and then you get the upper hand. You can't give them the upper hand, because they've got a good quarterback."
The Minnesota Vikings' best defense against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday might be an offense that can hold the ball and take a lead, keeping Rodgers on the sideline, minimizing the role of running back Eddie Lacy and allowing pass rushers to come after Rodgers when he is on the field. But that's a tall task for an offense that's 22nd in the league in time of possession, and even the most recent team to beat the Packers -- the New Orleans Saints -- did so with the help of two deflected interceptions, as Gray admits.
That, too, is easier said than done. Rodgers has been the league's best deep passer this season, completing 14 of his 27 throws that traveled at least 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those throws have covered 652 yards. Eight have gone for touchdowns, none have been intercepted and Rodgers' 24.15-yard average on such throws is the best in the league by nearly six yards.
The 66-yard shot he hit to Jordy Nelson on Oct. 2 put the Packers ahead 14-0, and while Rodgers only attempted two more deep balls the rest of the night, "one is too many," safety Harrison Smith said.
On the deep ball to Nelson, Rodgers faked a handoff to Lacy while Nelson cleared Captain Munnerlyn in zone coverage, stemming to a corner route before breaking back inside on Smith, catching a 55-yard throw from Rodgers and jogging into the end zone.
"That's the thing that any safety has to understand: You've got to respect him, especially when they put guys close to the core, and they're trying to protect all the edges," Gray said. "It's a two-man route, and they run it every week. If you bite on a '7' [corner] route, he runs a post. You stem on the post, he runs a '7.' He's got the option of both worlds."
Rodgers has only tried six passes of 20 yards or more when the Packers have trailed by at least seven points this season; he's taken 17 when Green Bay is ahead. It goes back to Gray's belief that beating Rodgers is a total team effort, but if Green Bay gets ahead on Sunday, the Vikings have to be ready for Rodgers to let it fly.
"If he can go down and beat you with a 15-play drive going 80 yards, that's one thing," Gray said. "But 80 yards on one play, that's no good in the NFL."
Coach Mike Zimmer has said Patterson needs to be more consistent with his route-running, and pointed out how much Patterson still needs to develop when he was asked on Monday whether he was disappointed with the second-year receiver's performance.
"(My numbers) been disappointing and I know I’m letting a lot of people down," Patterson said. "It’s tough. It’s very tough out here, man. It’s a struggle sometimes. Offensively, and me, just got to find that groove and just get it going."
Patterson caught 45 passes last season, but 29 of those were on passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats and Information. This season, with fewer plays designed around low-risk ways to get the ball in his hands, Patterson has just 28 catches on 59 targets, for 332 yards and only one receiving touchdown. Last week against Chicago, he caught two passes for 24 yards.
"It don’t matter what the defenses do,” he said. "This is my job. I need to find a way to get open."
As Zimmer pointed out this week, Patterson is only three years removed from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College; he played one year at Tennessee before heading to the NFL, and the Vikings' coaching change means he's learning his third offensive system in as many years. That is certainly a contributing factor to Patterson's sluggish development this season, and as the receiver said, it's turned 2014 into a year where "I'm not having as much fun.
"Coach Zimmer is right: I’ve been in three different offenses in three years. It’s a lot of learning," Patterson said. "At the end of the day, this is my job. This is something I need to just focus on, just this main job. And whatever Coach Zimmer says is right. Even though I probably won’t think it’s right, he’s the head coach and whatever he says goes."