Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
12:35
PM ET
After the Minnesota Vikings' 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Free Head Exam
    ESPN.com
    Sitting in the Metrodome press box offers a live version of the "All 22" coaches' video that the NFL has now made available. And I can tell you that Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder didn't often have an obviously open receiver when he completed his drop back. A good portion of his drifting toward the sideline or away from the line of scrimmage was an artful attempt to buy time. It worked frequently. One play in particular that stood out: a 14-yard completion to tailback Toby Gerhart on third-and-10 late in the second quarter. The play set up place-kicker Blair Walsh for a 52-yard field goal just before halftime. "That's a hard throw when you're just standing there," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "But he's on the move, and he's rolling with Toby and puts it in the right spot."
  2. I'm not sure if I've ever seen Greenway as active and physical as he was in a 13-tackle, two-sack effort Sunday. Greenway sometimes relies on his speed over power, but he set the tone by planting quarterback Alex Smith on third down to end the 49ers' first possession. Greenway took to heart a challenge from coach Leslie Frazier, who told players during a mid-week team meeting that outsiders were questioning their toughness. It was a fair observation, considering how soft the Vikings played in the final minutes of a Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But to the naked eye, the Vikings beat the 49ers at their own hard-hitting game. "That burned me up," said Frazier, who rarely appears burned by anything. "I wanted our team to know that there were doubts about the physicality of our football team and our guys responded."
  3. Defensive end Jared Allen clinched the game by sacking Smith and forcing a fumble with one minute, 33 seconds remaining. But Allen missed nine plays in the second half, a high number for him, because of neck spasms he began suffering after missing Smith on a sack in the second quarter. Allen said he had trouble turning his head to the left, and for a while tried switching positions and playing left end to minimize the impact of that limitation. "But I didn't want two guys playing out of position," Allen said. In the end, Allen did what stars are supposed to: make a big play at a key time in the game.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Did the Vikings find a winning template they can move forward with? Or was Sunday's game the result of a unique matchup? I'll be the first to admit I didn't view this game as a good matchup for the Vikings. But the 49ers' strength in limiting downfield passes was minimized, frankly, by the Vikings' disinterest in attempting them. And their defense exposed a fundamental weakness in the 49ers, who as Allen said, "are not built to play from behind. They run the ball and take calculated shots downfield." Smith had open receivers downfield but didn't always throw accurately. In games against more explosive offenses, will the Vikings be able to follow Sunday's approach? We'll soon find out. They're at the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

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