Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Minnesota Vikings Week 3: 5 Players To Watch Against San Francisco - Rant Sports

Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

The Minnesota Vikings played their second consecutive close game in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts, this time losing 23-20 after trailing 20-6 heading into the fourth quarter. Their first significant test is coming in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers, who are 2-0 and will play their third straight NFC North opponent to open the season.

Most of the experts will give the Vikings little chance of pulling off an upset at home on Sunday, but here are five players worth keeping an eye if Minnesota has any chance to win the game.

1. QB Christian Ponder

Ponder’s numbers were solid against the Colts, as he went 27-for-35 for 245 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He was also sacked four times in the game, losing a fumble on one, and offered little as a runner with just seven yards on three carries. The Vikings’ offense may have to take more chances downfield against the 49ers to move the ball effectively, and they have the type of defense that will exploit the type of mistakes Ponder has largely gotten away with over the first two games of the season. The lack of great options in the passing game outside of Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph hurts him, but Ponder will have to overcome that and do whatever it takes to keep the chains moving if Minnesota has any chance to beat San Francisco.

2. DE Jared Allen

Allen has not registered sack through two games, and his most noteworthy contribution to this point was negative with a personal foul penalty on Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck that helped extend a drive in Week 2. The call prompted him to criticize the replacement officials after the game, but that only serves to distract from the fact Allen also only has three total tackles so far this season. Quite simply the Vikings’ defense needs him to step up this week, win his matchup with 49ers’ left tackle Joe Staley and make life difficult for 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith. Anything less from their most impactful defensive player and it could be a long day for the Vikings.

3. CB Antoine Winfield

Winfield has played with a heavy heart so far this season after his brother’s tragic death, but he was able to make an impact against Indianapolis last Sunday with nine tackles. His overall performance will be a key component for the Vikings’ defense this week, as his ability in run support will be vital to containing the 49ers’ run game. Winfield could be counted on to make an impact in pass coverage against tight end Vernon Davis on occassion as well, as Minnesota struggles defending tight ends that are not Davis’ caliber. Winfield has also shown a nose for the ball during his career, with 24 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries over his first 13 NFL seasons, and if he can make an impact in that regard the Vikings may be able to turn the momentum against a superior team this week.

4. WR Percy Harvin

Harvin has arguably been Minnesota’s most important offensive player through two games, with 18 receptions for 188 yards along with 33 rushing yards on seven carries. He had 12 catches for 104 yards against Indianapolis in Week 2, though he was bothered by cramps late in the game that limited his effectiveness at times. With the lack of downfield threats the team has at wide receiver, Harvin should again see plenty of targets against the 49ers and he is the one offensive player for the Vikings that can be a mismatch for opposing defenses. He could also have an impact as a kickoff returner and help tilt field position to Minnesota’s favor, which is also certain to be important if the Vikings are to stay close in the game.

5. TE John Carlson

Carlson has not made a significant impact through his first two games with the Vikings, though a preseason knee injury can be partially blamed for that. He should progressively see more action now that he is healthy, even if Rudolph is clearly the more talented of Minnesota’s tight ends. Carlson could start to become a key factor in the passing game this week, but his best impact stands to be made as a blocker as the Vikings try to keep a talented 49ers’ front seven on their side of the line of scrimmage. No one should expect big numbers from Carlson, but this may be the week he begins to justify the significant investment the Vikings made in him during the offseason even without filling up the box score.

Minnesota Twins (61-87) at Cleveland Indians (61-87), 7:05 pm (ET) - News & Observer

The Minnesota Twins try to stretch their winning streak over the Cleveland Indians to five straight games on Wednesday evening in the continuation of a three-game series.

The Twins snapped a three-game slide overall with Tuesday's 6-5 victory in 12 innings, using the speed of Darin Mastroianni to go ahead.

Mastroianni hit a two-out single in the 12th and then stole second base. Alexi Casilla followed with a grounder to the right side of the infield and beat second baseman Jason Kipnis' throw to first. All the while, Mastroianni raced home from second to score and put the Twins ahead.

Casilla scored an insurance run in the frame following consecutive singles and it proved the difference when Glen Perkins allowed a solo homer to Carlos Santana in the bottom of the 12th with two outs before finally finishing off the save.

"Our bullpen was super. They came in and did a really nice job," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Scott Maine was charged with the loss for the Indians, who used a franchise single-game record 10 pitchers and lost for the eighth time in 10 games.

"We fought hard, came back and had the lead in the seventh. We couldn't hold it," Indians manager Manny Acta said.

Minnesota has won four straight and 11 of 13 versus Cleveland since losing the first three meetings of the 2012 season series.

The Twins hope to extend that win streak tonight and get starter Liam Hendriks his first major league victory. The righty has not factored into the decision of his past three outings, keeping him winless in 17 career MLB starts. That includes an 0-7 mark and 6.14 earned run average in 13 games this season.

Hendriks faced the Kansas City Royals on Thursday and allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings of his club's eventual 4-3 win.

That came one start after the 23-year-old faced the Indians for the second time in his career and yielded four runs over five innings of his team's 7-6 defeat.

Getting the call for the Tribe will be Zach McAllister, who lost his third straight start on Sept. 8 in Minnesota as he was charged with two runs on two hits and three walks in just three innings.

The righty has pitched just 4 2/3 innings in two career starts against the Twins, taking a pair of losses.

McAllister was much sharper on Thursday in a no-decision at the Texas Rangers. He gave up two runs, one earned, on eight hits over six innings. The 24-year- old did not walk a batter and fanned six, making him 5-7 on the season with a 4.15 ERA in 19 starts.

Minnesota Vikings: 6 Reasons to Remain Optimistic After Devastating OT Loss - Bleacher Report

Well, that game sucked for Vikings fans to watch. 

Outside of the last five minutes or so, the Vikings' play was abysmal at best. The Vikings couldn't find the end zone, keep their defense off the field or touch Andrew Luck with a 10-foot pole. 

Luck looked better than his sophomore opponent in purple while leading his team to victory. Donnie Avery ran rampant, Wayne got past the secondary a couple of times and the Colts moved the ball fairly well. 

The Vikings' offense continually stalled, Adrian Peterson never got going and once again, Percy Harvin was the only dynamic receiver in the game (not including Kyle Rudolph). 

Despite all of this, the Vikings still should have come home with the win. Yet somehow, some way, they found a way to donate their W to the Colts. 

Still, after all is said and done, Vikings fans should remain optimistic, because this year is just getting started. Here's why.

Andrew Luck Is in the AFC

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If the general consensus on Andrew Luck's potential holds true, which I suspect it will, then his impressive stat line of 20-for-31 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions will be considered an off game for him by the end of this season. 

Granted the Vikings secondary isn't exactly the league's finest, Andrew Luck tore them apart with ease on Sunday. He looked like a surefire future star with only 11 incompletions and some great throws in huge moments. 

Even with a great secondary, there will only be so much a team can do against him going forward. So hey, at least he's in the AFC, and the Vikings should only see him once every four years in the regular season. 

The Vikings Run Defense Looked Really Good

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Even counting Andrew Luck's good scrambles, the Vikings still held the Colts to only 84 yards on 30 carries. That's 2.8 yards per attempt, and a stat for sore eyes for Vikings fans. 

Take out Andrew Luck and Donnie Avery, and that was 52 yards on 22 carries. That's 2.4 yards per carry from the Colts two feature backs. 

If the run defense keeps up like that, all the Vikings need from their secondary is mediocre play to stay in any game. As we saw on Sunday, the secondary play was sub-par enough that Andrew Luck took the game into his own hands and won it. 

Thankfully, the Vikings secondary is youthful and growing as a unit every day. The Vikings might not be super bowl contenders yet, but they're at least a scary team to play for the contenders. 

The Pass Defense Isn't Even as Bad as It Looks

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Don't look now, but the Vikings nearly have a top-10 defense. Seriously, once you're done busting a gut, check out these surprising statistics:

Total yards allowed per game: 316.5 (12th)

Passing yards allowed per game: 218.0 (T-10th)

Rushing yards allowed per game: 98.5 (T-10th)

Points allowed per game: 23.0 (T-16th)

Total Sacks: 6.0 (T-7th)

I know, crazy right? Granted two games is a tiny sample size, at this pace the Vikings look very good. If you think about the game on Sunday, what would've happened if the Vikings didn't give up the big throw to Wayne to end the half? Would there have been an overtime in Week 1 if they didn't allow Cecil Shorts to make that amazing grab at the end of the game? Take away the poor play in clutch situations, and the Vikings defense is good enough to beat anybody.

Once the secondary gets a few more games under their belt, this defense will be hard to beat. They won't let receivers behind them as often and might even come up with one of those things fans only see other teams getâ€"interceptions.

Frankly, Christian Ponder should be able to put up over 20 points with the help of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin alone any given Sunday. If just a couple more playmakers emerge (Rudolph and Jerome Simpson anyone?), then this team has a chance against any opponent.

It will be interesting to see if these stats hold up after the next two weeks when the Vikings face considerably better offenses with San Francisco and Detroit. No matter what, at this point, the defense is a bright beacon of hope for the future.

Mistakes Are All That Stopped the Vikings from Going 2-0

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Seeing him still makes me cringe too.

He's had a slow start this year, and fans are really looking for the leader of this defense to step up. What people really remember right now was his boneheaded play when he blatantly hit Andrew Luck out of bounds. I can't really wrap my head around what that was if it wasn't frustration. It breathed life into the Colts' drive, which ended in a momentum swinging dagger of a score.

There was also Matt Kalil's stupid late hit, Harvin's uncharacteristic but obvious offensive pass interference and many more, which totaled for 11 penalties and 105 yards. That is way too much free yardage to give up.

A brief aside, Pat McAfee deserves an Oscar for that fall, and Charlie Johnson clearly didn't hold on that big Peterson run. Still, every game, teams face unjust penalties, and only the great teams overcome them.

Despite all of the struggles, the good news is that these poor penalties can be coached out of players. You can't coach talent, but you can coach brains. If the Vikings can learn and grow from last week, it will be beneficial in the long run.

The Vikings Obviously Don't Die Easy

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Sometimes, nothing matters but the fourth quarter.

The Vikings, for all of their blunders, struggles and shortcomings, went down swinging on Sunday. Any fan loves to watch a team that doesn't give up until the final whistle. Last year's Vikings weren't like the new and improved 2012 version.

The offense seemed more lively, the defense was a little bit better and there were some pretty good calls from the coaching staff in clutch situations. I admit that I'm first in line to criticize Leslie Frazier and his staff, but I take off my hat to him for what he's done to the Vikings' mentality. This never say die attitude is inspirational to say the least.

That screen to Toby Gerhart on 3rd-and-long was nothing shy of brilliant. It was the last thing the defense expected, and it worked to perfection. The playcalling in the fourth quarter was awfully good too. Maybe coach Frazier is always frowning because the Vikings aren't completely dominant, because even in that loss, there were smile-worth moments.

Leslie Frazier seems to be of the mindset that it's perfection or bust, and I for one am on board with bells on.

A Last Second Loss Is No Reason to Throw the Season Away

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Seeing as most fans realized this season was just step two in a rebuilding process, this season is seen as more of a tune-up year for the Vikings anyways. Still, for the diehards who can see Leslie and Co. hoisting the Lombardi trophy this winter, the season is not lost after one close loss. 

The Vikings have a lot of issues to address, with their secondary play, receiver play and two minute defense being just a few of many. Still, with all of the talent on this young roster with young coaches at the helm, there is hope for this year.

The Vikings have a very long way to go before winning a Super Bowl, and just seven wins this season would be considered a success by many, but there's still hope. Sometimes, teams just get on a roll.

Who can even call themselves a fan if they scrap their team's season only two games in. You never know what could happen.

Here's some more exciting things to focus on:

  1. Christian Ponder is completing 75.8 percent of his passesâ€"over 21 percent more than last year, and much better than Tarvaris Jackson's sub-60 career average. 
  2. Adrian Peterson is healthy. He might not have had a career game last week, but the Vikings needed to throw most of the second half. He's averaging a respectable 4.4 yards per carry and is on pace to score over 15 touchdowns.
  3. Kyle Rudolph is coming out of his shell.
  4. Only one more game without Jerome Simpson.
  5. Matt Kalil looks great.
  6. Jared Allen is pissed off, which will manifest into a huge game sooner than later.
  7. Jasper Brinkley is suiting up for three games in a row (knock on wood).

Begin Slideshow

Keep Reading

Props (0)

This article is

What is the duplicate article?

Why is this article offensive?

Where is this article plagiarized from?

Why is this article poorly edited?